As far back as I can remember, and memory is not one of my weaknesses, I have cried digits and hid from integers. Teachers had a funny knack of repeating the same problem over and over and over. It was as if they believed that though a ridiculous amount of repetition they would be able to put numbers in their proper place in my brain. But alas, I did not try hard enough. I just wasn’t paying attention, they said. I just wasn’t applying myself, they pressed. I just wasn’t… wasn’t.
Every new school year was just a new teacher who would soon have the look which said oh-well.
And there was no face of disappointment quite as damaging to my soul as the Clock. The Clock reminded me time and again just how useless all of my efforts would be. Adding ironic emotional injury to overexcitability insult, the Clock’s purpose should have been my solace for it alone knew just how long I had left in my torture.
Dyscalculia. Dyscalculia. I let the word swim around a bit. It comes from the Greek words dys and calcluia which mean “difficulty with” and “calculations”. I really didn’t need to dissect it to know it means that I have difficulty with calculations and mathematics.
I didn’t hear the word for the first time until I was seventeen, but I am quite comfortable with the word itself. I can break it up into roots and branches, define it, research it, and consider it. Words have never been a problem. They comfort me even as they define me.
Those pesky numbers!
They have a way of switching before I consider them or running backwards when I need them to go forward. The first moment I hear a problem, and trust me when I say it can be very difficult or the most basic, I sense the answer almost immediately. It’s right there behind a very thin veil. If I squint just right… I know the answer. I know it. But then, as soon as I open my mouth to respond, something odd happens: the numbers aren’t there any longer, they’ve changed, they’ve switched, flipped, flopped, and they lay there giggling at me.
It doesn’t make sense; I remember everything, so where did they go??
By this time someone else, possibly someone thirty years younger than I am, has already given the right and obvious answer; and I, with a small nonchalant smile, hope I have a look which says I had never tried.
I may not immediately know which digit is larger, but I do know that every miss makes me feel a bit smaller.
I am suddenly that little girl trying to read the time. The hands make shapes, the lines represent blocks, and all I need to know is when the small line is sleeping and finally raises its hand, the answer will be the 3:00 bell and I will be free.
When the bell rings I am free to run. I run down the hallway with the broken fire extinguisher case, I turn into the hallway with the mismatched tile, and finally I burst through the door with faded poster about a long past event. That is how I find my way. Don’t ask me if I took a right or a left because it would take me too long and it’s possible I’d never be able to tell you.
For so long I felt so lost.
Sitting in the doctor’s office with new diagnosis in hand I considered my options. I could feel devastated, embarrassed, or jaded. But I didn’t. I felt liberated. I thought about all of the times I got lost in neighborhoods because I couldn’t reverse the directions and all of the times I was made to count out loud and I fumbled- as though I didn’t know how to count to twenty!
Sitting across from me, this doctor who had met me only a few weeks before, was the first person in my life who heard me. She heard me say that the concepts are so easy. She heard me say that I am listening. That I listen to them and think, “that makes sense, it’s so easy, I’ve got this!” and then I sit down, pencil poised on paper, and it’s as if I didn’t hear the last 45 minutes of instruction. She nods, points to the word Dyscalculia, and says, “Yes, that is very normal.”
Normal? Me? How can you tell me I’m gifted in one breath, have Dyscalculia in another, and top it off with a normal cherry? I can’t count the number of times I’ve wished to hear someone call me normal. Literally.
I try to persuade her otherwise. I tell her that when she asked which numbers came next I felt like throwing something out of a window. Normal. I told her that I am in the middle of adding in my head and a number will just change, POOF!, and suddenly I’m subtracting a completely different thing. Normal. I told her I can’t follow patterns of numbers. Normal. I tell her I can’t do any math at any level no matter how hard I try. Normal. I tell her I’m not gifted at all and I feel like I am a failure because of my inability to do math. Normal.
Today’s Portrait of Gifted is the Clock’s Face. The Clock was my adversary for many years and its face represented something I would never see clearly. But it also represents time. It’s time to acknowledge that a diagnosis can be a good thing. It’s time to do away with stigma. It’s time to build up our kids and let them know that a disability does not make one less gifted and it does not make the journey more difficult.
I prefer to look at dyscalculia as a word given to me as a tool to help me understand an aspect of our mind’s complexity and amazing ability to compensate, push through, and succeed. I prefer to focus on my strengths; and when I do, math doesn’t seem quite so monstrous. I write down directions to AND from. I use a digital clock, but not with those horrid squared numbers that move around on me, one with the right organic lines to please my soul. And what do you know… I can tell time!
As parents, teachers, and administrators, it can be an opportunity to take a very serious look at the way in which math is presented in the classroom. In the end, new strategies could help teachers reach those who do not have a diagnosis of Dyscalculia but whose ADHD, ADD, or learning style makes numbers difficult or impossible.
Diagnosis doesn’t mean it all dissolves. Yesterday I was searching for two dollars to give to my daughter for school. She was worried that I couldn’t find enough change. My husband walked over with two quarters, set them down, and said, “Don’t worry, you’re a quarter of the way there!” I looked down at them and my mind, silly mind, got stuck on the word quarter. “No, she needs two dollars,” I say. Every single human in the room stopped to stare at me; even the five year old. “Yes,” my husband says with a smile, “and .50 cents is a quarter of $2.00.” I felt my cheeks go hot. Of course it is. I heard the word quarter, saw a quarter, and something stuck. It was jammed.
Here’s the thing, I just laughed. So did everyone in the room. I didn’t feel small at all. There is no time for small. I understand myself now and so do they. They know me, they love me, and they are able to laugh with me when my mind takes numbers and hands them to a juggling monkey riding a unicycle. They love the words I come up with and they don’t care about the rest. They’ve got my back.
Disability doesn’t dissolve because it is named, but all of the unnecessary pain and worry does. How glorious school, home, and life would be if we could give that same acceptance to all Twice-Exceptional kids! If we could make sure they know that Twice-Exceptional means Gifted first. Gifted most. Gifted only.
Share this. Ask questions below. I will answer candidly. I know I’m not alone and that makes me determined. You see….
I > Dyscalculia
*and yes, I admit, I had to google just to be sure I used the right symbol… for some reason it just didn’t look right. Oh wait, I have a reason. Relief x infinity. You do the math.