Trouble With Numbers

I little while ago, in responding to a comment on one of my ‘Rants’, I mentioned that I was ‘dyscalcic’.  DSCF7514

For most of my life I just assumed I was ‘bad at maths’… however, when it comes to it I often understood perfectly what had to be done in maths. In fact, one of my abiding memories is meeting my friend Jenny, who had won a place at Grammar school, on the bus home and helping her understand what she needed to do to complete her maths homework. The fact that I frequently did not get my maths work correct, despite me checking it more than once, did not compute with my understanding of the method …

I could never remember my times tables, despite being at the sort of primary school that had us reciting every morning.  I would learn them, revising as I went to school, recite them.. then by lunch time I would have lost them again. I still do not know my times tables – but I have developed strategies for working them out. I use the 9 x tables trick of one number down from the times-ed number plus – whatever it takes to make nine. Even I can manage the 5 x, 10x and 11x and extrapolate from those, often adding on the extra. So, because the 5 x is easy I can manage most 6x this way quite quickly. So my biggest bug-bear; 7 x 8 will go 5×8 is 40 so 6x easily is 48, now just add another 8 = 56. Strategies.

I did a lot of ‘pairing to make 10’ work at one time (adding up columns of figures for a local village post-office) – so my ‘numbers that make 10’ is quite good. This means that I can add up a column of figures fairly well – though I will frequently have to do it more than once.

However, the biggest problem I have is in transposition. Put a list of numbers on one sheet and ask me to copy them onto another and at least one number would end up transposed incorrectly. Like when I used to write certain phone numbers in the back of my diary – copying them across each year and not realising a mistake until I phoned someone. For instance I might call using 350646  and get a wrong number, only to look back at the old diary to see the number should have been 350464!  I can now look back and see how easily I could have copied the sum incorrectly from the text book, completed the calculation correctly but, obviously, got the wrong answer when compared to the ‘answer book’. It would be an unusual teacher that checked to see if the sum had been copied correctly in the first place!

Dyscalculia involves frequent difficulties with everyday arithmetic tasks like the following:

  • Difficulty reading analog clocks  [I often look and recognise what I need to know (i.e. is it near the time I am keeping an eye on) – but ask me just after I looked what the actual time is and I will almost always have to look again to be able to tell you]
  • Difficulty stating which of two numbers is larger  [written numbers are ok – given a moment or two, obvious differences are ok, like when the starting numbers are the ones to focus on but numbers said that are similar and of a long duration in saying, ie, one million, five hundred thousand, seven hundred and forty six …. followed by a similar large number with, say the hundreds changed… I may not recall the first number accurately enough to tell you.]
  • Inability to comprehend financial planning or budgeting, sometimes even at a basic level; for example, estimating the cost of the items in a shopping basket or balancing a chequebook [Sometimes great  sometimes way-out – having somehow bunched a group of similar items and made them add up to too much or too little]
  • Difficulty with multiplication-tables, and subtraction-tables, addition tables, division tables, mental arithmetic, etc. [Yep – that’s me – See above re: times tables & mental arithmetic,  for example the other day I was working-out quickly how many items I needed to sell at £5 profit to cover a £100 pitch fee and came up with 200!  Yes, written down I can see it is stupid .. but I actually thought it was right for a few minutes!]
  • Difficulty with conceptualizing time and judging the passing of time. May be chronically late or early. [I hate to be late.. so am often early  – but have to set myself alarms to make sure I am. (when did this start – was it because I knew that I could not trust myself to know how time was passing) I always assume that when I get lost in time it is just my absorption in what I am doing… I admit I didn’t realise this might be something else?]
  • Problems with differentiating between left and right [Ask the OH if I have trouble with left or right … he calls my left –‘the other right’.  Thank goodness for Sat Navs!]
  • Inability to visualise mentally [No – not this one! I have extremely good mental visualisation – so good I can, at a push, do some mental maths this way – imagining the numbers written on the board]
  • Difficulty reading musical notation [I have been trying to learn to read music on and off since I was 13 – by the time my mind works out the relationship with the notation and the fingering/note the moment has passed]
  • Difficulty navigating or mentally “turning” the map to face the current direction rather than the common North=Top usage  [Well that is just logical isn’t it ?? – to turn the map so that you are traveling the same way along it … Thank goodness for Sat Navs AGAIN!]
  • Having particular difficulty mentally estimating the measurement of an object or distance (e.g., whether something is 10 or 20 feet (3 or 6 meters) away). [No, not this one either – goes with the overheated mental visualisation]
  • Often unable to grasp and remember mathematical concepts, rules, formulas, and sequences [Sequences! What is the next number in the sequence? ALWAYS totally baffled me!}
  • Inability to concentrate on mentally intensive tasks. [Unable to concentrate on mentally intensive NUMBER tasks – doing my taxes is a nightmare and so tiring!!]
  • Low latent inhibition, i.e. over-sensitivity to noise, smell, light and the inability to tune out, filtering unwanted information or impressions. Might have a well-developed sense of imagination due to this (possibly as cognitive compensation to mathematical–numeric deficits)  [Well developed sense of imagination – tick (Hey – I’m a novelist!) And – actually, rather over-sensitive to particular smells, and can find myself focusing in lense-like on certain visual patterns in nature in particular]
  • Mistaken recollection of names. Poor name/face retrieval. May substitute names beginning with same letter. [Oh! And do I do this? So often it is embarrassing – though I have developed strategies for getting over the awkwardness of this in everyday life… and even more if I meet a person out of the usual context. And woe-betide me if they have changed hair colour! (which I do seem to notice first and remember most about people oddly enough)]                                                                         (diagnostics courtesy wikipedia)

Fourteen ‘diagnostics’ – and I fit 12!  (no I won’t attempt a percentage on that thanks)  so not an official diagnosis but too good a fit to be accident and it explains a lot.

Now when I went to school there wasn’t even dyslexia – let along dyscalculia –  so I just became ‘poor at maths’. I struggled to get a GCE grade C in maths, yet got my A Level* in Physics. Back in a more enlightened time this is what got me over the maths hurdle entering teaching. (*other  A levels were Biology and English) When I re-trained for Primary teaching after the youngest boy was in the juniors, we were introduced to the idea of maths strategies!  I was ahead of the game – and I believe I was a more effective teacher of Maths for having struggled with numbers myself.

In retrospect, I think I am glad that no one told me I had a ‘problem’ because it made me work hard to find ways around the difficulties. However, it does help now to explain the struggle I have had with numbers all my life … and still do!

Is Dyscalculia new to you?

Have you lived a life with a hidden problem and just made the best of it?

You know I love to hear from you – do share.


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