Maths and Me

I have dyscalculia. (More on dyscalculia here.) It is a learning disability pertaining to maths and is common with ADHD and Autism (contrary to the stereotype of all Autistic people being maths whizzes.) I learned I have dyscalculia only recently, while researching and educating myself about my own neurodivergent mind, it made so much sense. It also made me feel like crying with relief.

I remember when we started learning multiplication tables at school (which is often where dyscalculia starts to present as multiplication tables are complicated for this learning disability) I remember the struggles my folks went through, trying their hardest to teach me. I still feel a sick feeling in my stomach when I see those laminated, colourful maths charts for kids. Maths made me feel like an idiot, it just never clicked into my head. The basic sums were easy enough because I could quickly imagine lines of objects in my head and count them but anything more was really damn hard.

And then I never could read analogue clocks. I was so embarrassed by this in my teenage years and tried to always just have my Baby G digital wristwatch with me so that I didn’t have to deal with the burning shame I felt when people realised I couldn’t read a clock. To this day, I still have to stare at an analogue clock for ages, slowly counting, reminding myself of the rules of clocks until I finally guess at the time. I’m eternally grateful for mobile phones with their digital clocks.

I get that sick feeling that maths posters gave me when I’m looking at diagrams and charts. Excel spreadsheets have always made me feel anxious and stupid which have resulted in temper tantrums and crying fits well into adulthood, much to my deep shame. I have always felt stupid and ridiculous when trying to make sense of them, like I am looking at hieroglyphics with a head full of sludge. Maps give me the same feeling and I am incredibly Geographically challenged which has always confused me as I am a highly visual person.

I am hilariously bad at left/right and the only way I know which side is which is by remembering my right hand is the hand I paint with so I feel my hands for a split second and by then, when driving, I’ve usually missed my turn off!

I’ve always loved the idea of learning to dance and have attended many, many dance classes over the years. However, I’ve always left them disheartened because I find myself really struggling to follow dance instructions and choreography (a common symptom of dyscalculia, funny though that it is defined as a learning disability for maths and not for dance, it kind of shows what is more valued in our culture!) Discovering Yumi Umiumare‘s style of Butoh was wonderful for me because in the workshops, we are not given specific choreography to follow but instead find our own way of movement through provocations and suggestions. Butoh makes me feel like I can dance where every other dance classes have made me feel like a clumsy fool, five steps behind the rest of the class.

Why do I need to “label” myself with a “disability”? Because this does cause struggles in the modern world. Also it did make some of my childhood learning experiences stressful and damaging to my self-confidence in ways that contributed to my becoming avoidant of school and this poor self-confidence has plagued me to this very day. Learning about dyscalculia has been healing for my self-esteem because for so long, I internalised the idea that I hadn’t tried hard enough, that I simply had “poor confidence” and was therefore shooting myself in the foot. I have a deep shame about how much of a struggle money is to me and have been avoidant about it as a result. Now that I understand that I simply have a different brain. I am not, nor will I ever be, good at maths but maybe that’s the price my brain paid for being really damn good in some other areas. Humans don’t have gills or wings but we don’t tend to shame each other for this, it is simply a fact that means we’re not good at swimming or flying. I love who I am, it’s ok that maths ain’t my thang and it’s not a personal failing.

This diagnosis brings me peace.

Besides, it can be pretty amusing for my loved ones to hear me exclaim “I sold a painting for ten thousand dollars! Oh, shit, I mean, two thousand! That’s still heaps though, right?!”

If you have a child who is struggling more than usual with maths, it could be worth looking into this condition, there is a test for dyscalculia in children here that you can start with. If you are an adult who suspects you might have this condition, this test is a helpful start, I scored 52/56 on it.

Below are the symptoms that I have (which come from this list here.)

  • Trouble doing mental math
  • Frequently late
  • Finds it difficult to remember names
  • Needs to write down a phone number immediately to remember it
  • Gets lost easily; misplaces objects around the house frequently
  • Gets lost easily; misplaces objects around the house frequently
  • Struggles to keep score in games; often loses track of whose turn it is
  • Slow to tell time on an analog clock
  • Poor memory for anything number-related, like dates or facts
  • Struggles to learn dance steps or anything involving motor sequencing
  • Gets anxious at the thought of having to do math unexpectedly at work
  • Trouble handling money or keeping track of finances
  • Trouble understanding graphs or charts
  • Finds it hard to understand spoken math equations, even very simple ones
  • Skips numbers or transposes them when reading a long list or spreadsheet
  • Finds it difficult to use Excel formulas
  • Uses fingers to count or marks pages with tally marks to keep track of numbers
  • Often gets several different answers to the same math problem; needs to check work over and over again
  • Unable to remember math rules or times tables

(This post is part of a series of blog entries that I am going to share about my neurodivergence. I intend to do more because they are helpful for my own processing and I hope might also be useful to others. Please note that I’m not an expert in these topics and am new to these understandings of myself. The research and my own self-knowledge can and probably will change over time.)

Posted in: ADHDAutism

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