A few days ago I read an article about math-comprehension enhancement through electrical stimulation of the brain. I saw the word “dycalculia.” Oddly enough, I think that was the first time I had seen that word (Wiki’s “Dyscalculia” page has been heavily edited since I wrote this post, and now gives little useful info about dyscalculia. I am, however, leaving the link as I am fairly confident the information will be corrected and expanded.) even though I now know I am dyscalculic. I did some research, and now my life-long math anxiety makes sense. Dyscalculics are people across the IQ range who, regardless of traditional schooling, don’t have a solid sense of numbers or how they interact. Dyscalculics also usually have difficulty mentally fixing their own bodies in space, interpreting spacial relationships in general, and ordering events in time.
School was surrealistic for me. In grade school I was at the top of my class in reading and spelling. But I struggled with multiplication tables. I simply could not memorize them, even under the threat of a paddling in front of the class. I was always the last in my class to finish in-class math assignments. On the school bus, I would ricochet off the seat edges while walking the aisle. I learned to tell time well after the other kids, and I took remedial math classes during the summer. My piano teacher was embarrassingly kind. She every week she sat through 50 minutes of 1-minute songs that each took me about 5 minutes to play. I didn’t understand how the dots and lines and spaces on the music sheets fit the keys on the piano.
In high school, I flourished with vocabulary and reading comprehension, but math was rotten. In algebra, I used the same pre-filled-out “show your work” paper for each homework assignment when the teacher walked the aisles to check our homework. He would always pause at my desk while I sunk in my seat. But he always wordlessly moved on. I frequently forgot the order of my classes and my locker combination. Running a straight line for track practice was impossible. In chemistry, my teacher went to grandiose lengths explaining the definition of a “mole.” To this day I have no working conception of it, even after re-reading its definition. My chemistry tutor patiently re-explained how to set up and calculate chemical equations every week until we both gave up.
In college I took what was described as a basic math class. The professor spent the first couple weeks teaching matrixes without quizzing the class. I tried to mentally pound the numbers into my brain, but they would crash and smash instead. The look of utter confusion on my face was so obvious, the professor called me into his office and asked me why I wasn’t “getting it.” I didn’t have an answer, so I dropped the class and finally swore off math for good.
Now, as an adult? . . I can’t immediately recall my own telephone number without the act of writing it. I still sometimes forgot how to do basic division and still transpose numbers. The few money-handling jobs I’ve had were nightmares. I don’t drive. I don’t think I’ll ever write another check. Hotels and shopping centers spontaneously morph into mazes, and I don’t know north from a hole in the ground. Even though I have perfect vision, I still sometimes run into walls while turning corners, or trip on chair legs. Keeping score in card games is baffling. I love science- except for the math parts. I know math is the language of the universe. Math is magic. But I’m not a magician.
I used to think I was just “numbers lazy.” That if I just tried hard enough, I would “get it.” Now I am relieved to know it’s not laziness, but a physical brain difference. Dyscalculics are often strong in language, perhaps to compensate for their math deficiencies; or perhaps the same mechanism which weakens math ability strengthens language ability. I don’t “get” the language of the universe, but I revel in my own language. I think I wouldn’t change a thing.