Personal Experience: Dyscalculia”

My mom decided on early admission into Kindergarten. I failed the proficiency test. The test consisted of drawing a house. I could not draw a decent house. So I had to wait until I was five. I was in a special section of the school. In kindergarten we were reading and doing multiplication tables. I could read but I hated to read out loud. I also hated that we had multiplication, division, and fractions. I sucked at multiplication, division, and fractions (still do). We had homework. What sort of kindergarten was this exactly? Anyhow I remember stewing over a sheet of fractions and in a wave of frustration writing “I don’t know!” for all the answers. My cousin (who was an adult and living with us at the time) was furious with me. “You lazy, stupid brat!”

I would hear more of the same for years and years to come. In the 2nd grade I moved to another city and another school district. I was tested for the gifted program. I bombed the spatial abilities segment so I was not admitted into the program. The extreme disparity in my skills should have indicated a disability but it was never investigated. My spatial skills are in the 19th percentile, math in the 20th percentile (as an adult I am functionally on a fifth grade level), verbal 98th percentile, ability to follow instructions 90th percentile I forget the other numbers. As my kindergarten was so extreme 2nd grade was pretty easy except for one thing. I could not tell time. In 3rd grade I was put into the gifted reading program but kicked out because “I was thinking too much. I went too deep into my analyses.” Those were my teachers words but I have no idea why that resulted in removal from the program. My real problem though was math. I spent most of the class doing disciplinary squats because I just wasn’t learning fast enough. My mom tried to help but she got so frustrated with my complete inability to comprehend numbers that she ended up doing my homework for me. In fifth grade I was banned from using scissors because my coordination was so poor (bye bye arts and crafts). By the fifth grade I had also memorized all the bones in the human body (the scientific names). In middle school I required excessive tutoring in math. My math teachers repeatedly called me stupid. I was doing well in my other subjects. In high school I had to start at the very bottom in math (surprise!). For my other classes I was in college prep 2. After a while I was offered placement in the gifted program with the exclusion of math naturally but math was taking all my damn time so I couldn’t contemplate a heavier workload. I also didn’t wanted the gifted kids thinking I was an impostor. The gifted kids did hang out with me, as did the special education kids. Geometry combined math and spatial reasoning. It was a nightmare. My average test score was a 34. I failed everything I attempted. I failed despite tutoring. I told people I never studied because I could not admit that after hours of daily studying the best I was capable of was a fucking 34. My teachers saw how hard I fought for those miserable 34s and passed me anyways. They could not teach me and they could not bring themselves to hold me back either.

At University I took an entrance exam. The verdict: I would have to take 3 basic courses in math before I would qualify for the entry level course. It was then that my problem was discovered. My teacher came to me and said “You have Dyscalculia” Finally someone knew why a person of average intelligence like myself was so far behind in math. He worked with me extensively to prepare me for the basic course. He was an outstanding teacher (he is likely retired now). My math disability plagued me all through college. I could not go for my PH.D in Nutrition because I could not handle the arithmetic. I couldn’t go as far as I wanted in Psychology because the statistic courses were absolutely incomprehensible to me. Chemistry was required but I could not do the equations. I had an F in class but then the teacher assigned us a paper and the paper impressed her so much that she changed my overall grade to a C. Whenever I could write my way out of a math-based course I did. It is difficult hiding the fact I can’t tell time, that I cannot read or remember dates, that I cannot read long numbers, that I cannot calculate prices or percentages, that I cannot do basic arithmetic, or find my way out of a cardboard box. It is excruciatingly embarrassing. For those who do not know me and only see my Dyscalculia they look down on me as being lazy and/or stupid but I am neither.


9 responses

  1. I find it fascinating how the human brain works. I know someone at work who is able to remember numbers for years. I can give him someones phone number and three months later he can recall it. I forget someone’s name three minutes after. But he cannot do simple things like fixing a car or solving an issues with his computer while I can fix anything and understand computers like the back of my hand. I still use my fingers to count many times 🙂 and avoided math all my life. I never heard of this learning problem before, sounds interesting and the way your brain became so great with other areas. It is fascinating but of course in a depersonalized way since it is not something I wish on anyone. I guess if we consider silver linings we can say that having this learning disability made you into such a great writer and enhanced so many other areas in your life.

    • My husband is also good at remembering long strings of numbers (but cannot remember names/faces), he is good with computers too. The brain is definitely mysterious and as much pain and struggle as Dyscalculia has caused I would not give up writing. Writing is in me, it consumes me and replenishes me simultaneously. I have tried to live without poetry hoping if I gave it up I would balance out or connect more with people but it had the opposite effect. I became more disconnected and unstable. I have decided now to embrace it and write everyday and I have made more progress with my issues this way.

    • In the city I am originally from will call it W the school curriculum is very intense and kids start early and are pushed hard academically (maybe a counter against the massive crime and drug issues). I moved to another city S and there 2nd grade curriculum was actually easier than kindergarten in W. I had a teacher in S that was from W and she said the difference is substantial between the two cities (I think she said W is min. 3 grades ahead of S) even though they are in the same state.

      • In Sweden they start more slowly. First year of school my daughter really just played games, listened to stories and got used to working with others, classroom etiquette and such. All my relatives from America were like why isn’t she reading and writing yet?! They go slow here and they also incorporate life skills into the curriculum like learning to sew, cook, woodwork, swim, read maps and so forth. They also spend a lot more time outside no matter the weather (I mean if they worried about the weather they wouldn’t go out much in Sweden lol), walking in the forest learning about nature (my daughter has such a reverence for nature). In high school Swedish schools have majors like in college and kids pick which school suits their needs and interests. High school in Sweden is harder than in the states, Sam learned stuff in high school I didn’t even do in college like physics. I never had physics.

        To answer your question did it help?
        Well Miss Isaac my Kindergarten teacher was extremely kind and patient so yes because she showed me kindness and compassion which I wasn’t getting at home from my family and it did really help with my reading skills. It overwhelmed me in the math department the strain and stress of that was not positive. Miss Isaac also worked a lot with coordination and believe you me I needed it, I really liked the coordination games (we had a weird playground for developing coordination the likes of which I have never seen elsewhere) and though I sucked at them they were fun and I believe important. I didn’t like Tennis much. We played Tennis in Kindergarten and I always got partnered with Melvin. Melvin would hit the balls hard and since I couldn’t hit them back with the racket I just got pelted.

      • That’s how school should be Yves, an enjoyable place o go to where you can learn. Really learn not just work by rote.
        You were lucky to have a teacher who cared, I’m afraid that most of mine just appeared there for the day. Although I spent 6 months at a 1 teacher school, with 10 other kids. Now that was great. 6 of them were girls. 🙂 Melvin sounds like a real little shit doesn’t he? I bet he loved pelting you.

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