Maths has always been a huge issue for me. When I was about 11 I was congratulated by teachers for coming top in my year in an English exam. This cause for celebration was dampened by news from my maths teacher that my performance in the maths exam was so low it had fallen off the bottom of the chart. My maths performance didn’t improve and my effort diminished with it.
At university I read history. You might think that’s a daft choice for someone who is so bad at maths, with all those dates and everything. I was fine; it didn’t involve adding, subtracting or any of those convoluted things.
I just don’t ‘get’ numbers. I transpose digits. I regularly enter phone numbers the wrong way around. Even simple multiplication on a calculator is complicated for me: I can do the same calculation five times and get five different answers. I get anxious in meetings when discussing numerical data. I have to think very hard about which is left and which is right. Yes, I know it’s a sexist stereotype, but I really can’t read maps.
I always thought it was just me and felt stupid.
One day, I had a Eureka moment. I stumbled across some information about speech and language difficulties. One of these was called dyscalculia. It is similar to dyslexia, but it affects the way the brain reads numbers, not words. The symptoms (difficulty with basic arithmetic; not knowing the difference between left and right; not being able to read maps, to name a few) seemed to fit me perfectly. Besides these difficulties, sufferers tend to have normal or above average IQ (they’re not stupid!). About 6% of the population are have dyscalculia, so why isn’t it more widely-known?
I was keen to find out how I could get myself tested for dyscalculia – if only to prove I’m not thick.
Herein, it seems, lies the problem with awareness about the condition. Experts have different opinions on what dyscalculia is and there is no definitive test. Tests are available, but they are expensive.
What does this mean for dyscalculic children in schools? Dyslexia is now a well-known condition, with a wide variety of support available in class and extra time in exams for dyslexic students.
It seems that many schools don’t understand dyscalculia. Therefore, they don’t understand what support is needed to help children overcome their problems with maths.
Taking time and patience to help a child understand numeracy in a way that works for them is key. It will help them understand not just maths, but a range of other subjects. Most importantly, it will help their self-esteem if they are not labelled as ‘stupid’ or ‘lazy’.
If you have the same problem with numbers and want to prove you’re not stupid, tests are available online. See this quick test or do a Google search.
As for me, I’ve come to accept that numbers are something I struggle with. I’ve found ways round things.
So what if I count on my fingers. At work, if I need help with a something relating to numbers, I ask. At home, my partner excels at maths and looks after that side of things.
If I have to turn a map around to figure out where I’m going, that’s fine. I give myself an extra second to think what’s left and what’s right. It’s all about balancing the equation.