I'm sure you have all heard of the learning disability Dyslexia, but how many have heard of Dyscalculia? Not many I presume, because nobody in my university had heard of it before they met me. Here is the definiton: Dyscalculia is an impaired ability to learn grade-appropriate mathematics. This basically means I can't understand numbers. Those with dyslexia have troubles with reading and writing, whereas I have trouble viewing, writing and using numbers and troubles viewing graphs and such. Approx 5-7% of the population suffer from dyscalculia (Geary, 2004) while dyslexia affects 20% of the population (online source).
I had troubles with maths since I was 6 years old. While everyone else grasped the concepts quickly and understood how to add, subtract, divide and multiply, I would sit in floods of tears because I hadn't the slightest idea what to do. I just thought that I was stupid, plain and simple. A lot of studies show that a person is normally good in maths or good in english but rarely both. I thought that I just generally fell into this category as I was quite good with english. Spelling and grammar where the two strengths I had amoung many academical weaknesses. I clung to them like I needed them to survive and slowly my maths skills just got worse. When I entered high school, my teacher realised I was drastically behind in my comprehension of mathmatetics and suggested I might have dyscalculia, but I took no notice. I was 11 years old and my school didn't offer anything to prove I had it, so I forgot about the suggestion completely. The following academic year while my class were doing higher level math questions and I sat in a world of confusion my teacher asked me to stay behind after class. I assumed I was in trouble for not doing any work as I couldn't understand what I was supposed to do. After the class, instead of getting shouted at, my teacher handed me a work book. The workbook said "Math problems for ____ pupils". The ___ was covered in tipex so I couldn't see what level of maths I was doing. I was asked to work through that during the week to pin point any particular problems. I worked through it within a week because I knew I needed help immediatly. When I handed it back to her she told me the work was for P6 students (aged 9-10) and that I'd actually got 38% of the answers correct. This fact simply depressed me and I gave up with maths. I got a C in my GCSE examinations but I think that was due to my coursework. My teacher helped me immensely with it.
When I went to college to do a National Diploma in Applied Science (Forensic) I had help from all the tutors and never had to tackle the maths myself. This qualifcation was all coursework based so I just redrafted any wrong work and my teachers basically told me the answers to many of the equations and formula. With the help I recieved I managed to get the highest possible grade for this qualification which is known as a triple distinction. This is the equivilant to three A+'s at a-level. I then went on to a different college to get my A-Levels, and this is where my maths really affected me. There was no help offered, I had to tackle the maths myself. After the first year I came away with a C in AS level biology but failed chemistry and physics due to the fact I couldn't get any answers that involved maths correct. In my A2 year of biology, as the maths increased, I slowly failed that as well. Overall, after two years, I came away with an E in a-level biology. It was humiliating.
I got accepted into university due to my triple distinction thankfully. I went to the disabilities adviser about my depression and mentioned that the maths involved in the course was getting too much and I was terrified of failing. The advisor booked me in with an educational psychiartist. The process took four hours but he finally diagnosed me with dyscalculia. In his report it said my english was better than 96% of the population (a superior amount according to the league table) but my maths was terrible at 12% better than the popualtion. Basically, I was only better than those who had never done maths in their life before. Even though it was a relief to finally get a reason as to why I could never do maths as well as others, it was still depressing to see just how bad I was at it. The report said that I got some basic calculations wrong such as 5 x 8 which I answered as 48 and 12 x 7 which I answered as 80. This was excruciatingly embarrassing. My mother is brilliant as maths and works in a store as their Cash Administrator and the rest of my family were also quite good with numbers. I was the only one who didn't have a clue.
Now that I am in university, the struggles with maths are becoming more apparent with each passing day. Every lecture shows formulaes, equations and graphs that everyone can work out within minutes and I couldn't even explain what I'm seeing on the screen. I had a maths tutor, but he only told me how to do it. This is the problem with dyscalculia... telling me how to do it isn't going to work. A friend of mine found a technique that works even if it does take two hours per question. They will explain exactly where every number came from, and what I have to do with it to find the answer. Then we will do questions to see if I've grasped each bit. It works well but I feel like a burden. My friend isn't getting paid to help me at all and does it out of kindness.
During my exams I had to look for a digit within a normal unit distribution table. This table holds roughly 300+ numbers on one A4 page. While trying to find the number I was looking for, I had an ocular migraine which (according to my GP) was triggered by my dyscalculia and my brain trying to view so many numbers at once. An ocular migraine is temporary and painless but affects the sight badly. I was completely blind for half an hour, all due to a simple learning disability.
In a recent module I had to ask the tutor to slow down a bit when he was explaining graphs and equations. This tutor asked me why and I explained that I'm dyscaculic and I can't see what he's seeing when he shows these graphs and such... he looked at me like I was a complete idiot. Which is understandable I guess, dyscalculia doesn't get as much attention from others as dyslexia would.
There isn't any real point to this piece of writing other than to maybe alert a few others to it. In conclusion, your friend that can't do maths as well as the others isn't stupid. They may have dyscalculia as well. If you feel your mathmatics skills aren't up to scratch talk to your doctor or GP and they may be able to get a diagnosis for you. Dyscalculia isn't as widely advertised as dyslexia, but it really should be. I got more time in my exams due to it but those with dyslexia got stickers to put on their exams, which meant their spelling couldn't be marked down. How come I can't get a sticker like that, so that when I inevitably mess up the maths, it can't be marked? How is that fair?
I guess I just needed to write this to convince myself I have a learning disability and I'm not as stupid as everyone makes me out to be.
Thank you for reading.
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