Smart Thick Kid – Living with Dyscalculia

I first noticed there was something different about my brain in primary school. Dyscalculia was not a recognised condition at the time, certainly not at any of the schools I attended. As soon as I was expected to detach visual aids from maths, it became a problem for me.  I could understand maths when I could see the things to count, even my fingers. Removing this, broke my fragile relationship with maths. No one understood why I could not grasp these supposedly simple concepts. My memory of this time was there were a lot of teachers who just didn’t understand why I could excel in certain subjects and fail stunningly in anything related to maths.

black board maths equations math dyscalculia dyslexia
Is this an alien language or is it maths?

What is Dyscalculia?

There are lots of things my brain refuses to cooperate with me on. I have never been able to learn my times tables. All that chanting out numerical sequences baffles me. Those patterns that you can see and recognise in times tables, well I can’t understand them nor retain that knowledge.

Never take it personally that I don’t remember a certain date or your phone number. My brain does not like numbers so it farts out large chunks of numerically based data, then scrambles the remaining few digits.  That’s why I write stuff down, my brain cannot be trusted with any information containing numbers whatsoever.

When I see a list of numbers, things sort of rearrange themselves in front of me. I find it hard to read and often have to use my hands to mask sections. Even then, I will still transpose numbers or miss some out.

I’m unable to do mental arithmetics. Yes, I do still have to use my fingers to count, I’m just better at disguising what I’m doing now. Anything too complex and my standard answers become “who cares?” or “do it yourself”. When asked to perform feats of maths, I get panicky, then the rushing sound starts. As my blood courses its way through my head, pounding each beat with emphasis, I start to feel sick. No maths can be done in this state.

notebook note taking laptop coffee desk books dyscalculia dyslexia maths
I am listening, that’s why I am writing stuff down!

Other Ways Dyscalculia Affects Me

Then there’s the no sense of time, direction or spatial awareness aspects. Since numbers don’t make much sense to me, I easily lose track of time and am always late. If you leave me in a large paper bag, I will get lost. Making mental maps, reading maps, finding my way about is another set of tasks my brain misfires on. I walk into immovable objects a lot. Doors, door frames, the occasional wall and more can all bear witness to this. No those bruises are not dodgy, and yes I really did walk into a door. I forget how long my arms are, how wide my shoulders are and prang them constantly.

Numbers are a foreign language to me. I understand the basics but am unable to master the finer complexities of it. I will always sound like a non-native speaker in the land of maths. Permanently confused. You could try to teach me, but there’s no guarantee I will retain anything for any length of time. My uncle taught me how to play chess one evening, then was annoyed at the fact I had forgotten most of it a day later. Even complex sets of rules for a game can cloud my brain into non-compliance.

maze, labyrinth, puzzle, building, hedges, hedge maze, lost, confused, direction, dyslexia, dyscalculia,
What my nightmares are made of. Do NOT leave me here.

Being Wired Differently

School was a nightmare for me. People bullied me badly because of my oddly wired brain. Let’s face it if I confounded adults I scared the crap out of other kids. From primary 5 onwards I was bullied incessantly. I had moved to yet another school, my accent was the object of ridicule along with the fact I didn’t live with my parents. My teacher was bullying me, I had no idea who to tell nor who would care. She was a friend of the aunt I lived with. At a private meeting between my aunt, the teacher and I, it was made clear to me, that this teacher was going to make my life hell, so I assumed my aunt had recommended this course of treatment. The teacher would pull me up in front of the class to make fun of me. I earned the nickname “Smart Thick Kid” from her and it stuck.

It was only when I got to high school and noticed a few people with dyslexia, that I joined up the dots for myself. They had diagnosed one of my friends with it. I eventually asked her what it felt like and how it affected her. As she explained her story to me, I realised that there was a similarity with my own issues. “That’s like me, but for maths!” I told my friend, so I started calling it maths dyslexia.

lego, elf, cute, odd one out, stormtroopers, not welcome, dycalculia, dyslexia,
Like an elf at a Stormtrooper party. This pretty much sums up how school was for me.

Feeling Alone

Many years after I had left school, I was finally in a household with my own internet connection. One which I knew no one would give two hoots for my looking up learning difficulties.  Armed with a sense of freedom and a search engine, I looked up the term “dyslexia maths”.  There were pages of information, many detailing similar problems to my own.

I cried, like a baby when I realised I was not alone. My strange brain wirings were also other people’s problems. All those odd things that I couldn’t do but I didn’t even realise were connected – were. In black and white, I could see my wiring laid out. I no longer felt so alone. The mere knowledge there are others like me, soothed me greatly.

key keyboard knowledge dyscalculia dyslexia maths
The key to knowledge lay in an internet search.

Leaving School

The bullying I received throughout my entire education did not end when I left school.  Even in a workplace environment, I have been told that I am “smart but thick”. Nonchalantly and to my face, as if this is somehow an acceptable form of conversation.

My comfort comes from my verboseness, my love of words, languages, the way I can see patterns in words. I notice tiny details, that allows me to appreciate and create art in my own unique way, I see things others fail to. My brain adores clinging on to random interesting facts and then firing them out at the strangest of moments. There are many things I can do, which do not rely on the miswired sections of my brain. Perhaps my talents exist because I see things differently from most people? I’d like to think it’s a reward for having wonky maths. The only thing I would like to change is other people’s perceptions of my condition. It is absolutely possible to be terrible at all things maths related, yet not be a complete, blithering idiot. After all, we all have our own unique strengths and weaknesses.

16 thoughts on “Smart Thick Kid – Living with Dyscalculia”

  1. I can personally relate with this 100%. I too have dyscalculia and it really screwed me up with my education, my mother left when I was 5yrs so that no top of the dyscalculia ensured my life was never going to be that of a normal child.

    I can however give hope to anyone else suffering from it, don’t be concerned about it and feel you can not learn because you can, my English used to be terrible but I managed to teach myself due to owning a business online.

    I’m married now and have a kid, my wife tends to deal with any numbers as does my father and our accountant. if you try hard at anything it can happen you just have to keep going. Just because you’re not good with numbers does NOT mean you do not have skill(s) with something else.

    For example: I’m great at marketing, sales and consider myself to be a successful businessman. I’m making way more than my old friends are that paid thousands for an education too. I don’t have one single GCSE to my name yet still managed to make it.

    TIP – Look into: affiliate marketing <-= master that and you can make good money!

    Good luck!


    • Hi Lee. Thank you for your comments.

      Sorry to hear you have had a rough time of it, but happy to learn that you have found your personal strengths. As you said, stressing about this sort of thing never helps and it’s always better to accept.

      It’s a shame that many perhaps are discouraged from finding out what they are excellent at doing, simply because they are told they are stupid for not being able to do maths.

      Your marketing is not impaired by your dyscalculia any more than my art or writing is. There is hope for us all.

  2. Thanks for this post, I always wondered if there was a condition like dyslexia but for mathematics. Reading this was like going down a checklist. I never thought to connect the bullying with this condition, I just assumed bullies had some sort of radar they seemed to be able to pick me out. I’m almost 40 so when I was in school humiliation based education seemed to be the norm. I remember just wanting to turn invisible during math class, sweating it out hoping the teacher wouldn’t call me up to the board to do a problem. It pretty much means college is out as well, too bad as I excel in everything except mathematics and some science courses. Thanks for sharing this, good to know I’m not the only one!

    • Thank you so much for your comments.

      I’m glad that you found my article helpful but sorry to hear that you too suffered bullying as a result.

      Yes, the wish to turn invisible when confronted with maths problems is also something I identify with. Still.

      No, it does not mean that college is out. Trust me on this. I returned to university as a mature student, with learning difficulties and HUGE gaps in my education. I wanted to do it and knew I was more than capable. I attended clearances for my chosen university and spoke to those in charge of the course I was interested in. I got an unconditional acceptance that day, despite my aforementioned issues. I now have a BSc in Digital Media as a result of my bloody-mindedness and refusal to quit. It can be done, you just got to want it bad enough.

      You are by no means alone, and help is out there if you should want or need it. Good luck!

      • Hi. I made a WordPress solely to speak to you. I greatly appreciate your transparency with this disability. I am 26 and am looking for advice for substituting/bypassing college math courses. It has put a major damper on my self-esteem; sometimes I wonder if my depression would cease if I could pursue my education free of math. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could I speak to you? My email is

  3. I don’t have a confirmed diagnosis of dyscalculia, but after reading this article I did the self-check on and got 100%…
    I am 23 years old and have struggled with math my entire life. 3rd grade for me will ALWAYS live in infamy, because, well…times tables. I could remember 7s and 2s..but besides that, they just would NOT stick and it was completely embarrassing. I’ve also never been able to remember directions. I still get nightmares about getting lost in places that I should be very familiar with – high school, college, on the way to work. I also have always disliked sports because I can never remember the rules and I just don’t understand the sequences of the games.
    I graduated high school and college, but I had a TON of extra help, and I never had to go without a calculator (which is a really good thing, because I couldn’t have gotten through without one). And now that I’m on my own, I have a lot of problems keeping up with finances…It seems to all fit together. You’ve inspired me to seek diagnosis and try to get help, because it really does cause a lot of anxiety in my life.

  4. Hi,
    People can’t believe I need to use a spreadsheet or a calculator to do simple math.
    I remember counting on my fingers doing a test when I was 14. The teacher saw me and said “I thought you were supposed to be smart kid.”
    My worst moments now are getting lost and not being able to read a map correctly, especially when I’m tired.
    My navigation system in my car helps, but sometimes it gives me wrong directions and I’m sunk.
    I can’t tell you what a relief it is to find other people who get mixed up about things other people think are easy.
    I married, of all things, a mathematician. Fortunately he doesn’t make fun of me for not getting some things. He says I’m just not firmly fixed in the space-time continuuum and we laugh.

  5. How profound, how soothing, how beneficial it would have been to have read this when I was a child. Knowledge is power.
    Stories like these always make me cry. Yet also strengthen my resolve.
    I’m not alone.
    I’m not an idiot.
    It’s not my fault.
    I’m not a failure.

    Dyscalculia was a word I first came across on the internet a few years ago.
    I never thought to look up causes for math deficiencies because I always just assumed it was some sort of personal failure. I even desperately tried to make up for my dyscalculia by excelling at every other subject I could. I tried so hard. I was a “smart girl” in every other class. In English, I could write well and I simply loved literature. I could learn Spanish, I devoured history, I enjoyed anatomy, I loved geology. I could remember the most obscure historical and scientific facts and events. I could read anything, analyze the hell out of it, and regurgitate that knowledge with my own perspective (from an early age my reading comprehension was always above average.)

    But no matter how hard I tried, every time walked into a math class my adrenaline would spike, my mask would fall, and I would feel so naked and vulnerable.
    In math class, I was an utter idiot.
    I loathed and feared every single second of my existence in every math class I have ever been in.
    So much adrenaline and cortisol was lost during math classes I’m sure I have specific math-induced wrinkles.

    Dyscalculia combined with social anxiety and introversion really obliterated my self esteem during school.
    In many ways, I’ve never gotten over that self hatred I had for my own inadequacy.
    I also attributed my poor sense of direction and time perception to personal stupidity. I never linked them to some all-encompassing learning disability.

    In short, dyslcalculia has added fear and frustration to my life.
    But, it’s not my fault.
    My own biology is to blame for this. Not laziness. Not a lack of intelligence.

    And I’m finally okay with that.
    It’s made me….well….me.
    I’ve had to try twice as hard at everything else and I know I see the world differently than mathematically inclined people. I’ve learned to be very empathetic and intuitive in certain challenging situations. I pay attention to not only what people say, but how they say it, and can read people extremely well. I still try to retain as much knowledge as I can to make up for my inability to retain mathematical information.

    I frequently get lost in buildings and cities. I hate driving.
    I still mix up left and right.
    I cannot do mental math.
    Counting money is difficult.
    I’m often late.
    I’m often embarrassed.

    But I am NOT unintelligent.
    And I still fight to remind myself that. Every day.

  6. Iozmac, I have a 15 year-old son with dyscalculia and I have failed him. I took him out of school after fifth grade. They wanted to leave him back again (he had been left back in kindergarten), his teacher said he needed one on one attention and they did not have time for that. I’ve been trying to homeschool him, but he is still unable to retain his multiplication tables. I would like to know how did you get promoted each year without knowing math?

  7. Hello there, i am the founder of a business focused on helping all ages to tackle head on the issues of dyscalculia. We began with the issues of trying to get our children to understand simple sums, so then built This has now led to us creating a more indepth resource. I simply wanted to say a big THANK YOU for starting this blog and making such a big difference to people across the world. It makes us realise that our efforts can go somewhere exciting. Appreciate You!!!


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