Sunday 3 March 2024

Dyscalculia Awareness Day - Daily life with Dyscalculia

Today March the 3rs is Dyscalculia Awareness Day. What (You may ask) is Dyscalculia? As most people indeed need to ask, and therefore this day is much needed. Dyscalculia is one of the neurodiverse diagnoses which is specific to people who have difficulty identifying, reading, sequencing, and understanding numbers, values, and mathematical processes. It is akin to dyslexia but with numbers. However, unlike dyslexia, which many people at least have heard of, but may not actually fully comprehend, dyscalculia is less well known. I have even spoke to teachers who don’t understand what it is and aren’t even aware of its existence. It is a bit rarer than dyslexia, which affects 9-12% of the global population, Dyspraxia is up to 6%. However up to 40% of people with dyslexia also have dyscalculia. I am one of the 40%.

I wasn’t diagnosed with dyscalculia until aged 19, the same time I officially got diagnosed with dyslexia, however every teacher knew I had dyslexia as it was better known and understood, so individual teachers gave me extra support, and because I wasn’t officially diagnosed many of them wrote to the exam boards asking for me to get extra time, which I indeed received due to barrage of letters and evidence that each teacher individually sent them – for which I will forever be grateful. Despite this is still struggled a I was still on first readers ‘Billy Red Hat’ type book when I went up to secondary school, but at least it got recognised and I received helped.

Math on the other hand was a different matter. I couldn’t learn my times table and frustration as to why, came out in discipline from my parents and epic temper tantrums and fits of violent outbursts from me, coining me the title problem child’. Learning math was incredibly difficult as numbers didn’t move on the page (as poetic descriptions) but every time I looked down from textbook to exercise book or board to paper, the numbers were in a different order. I can tell you getting the correct answer for a sum, when the number keep changing if very difficult and frustrating. Plus, I never got any help. No one in school had any idea about dyscalculia, not the math teachers, not Learning Support, not even the educational psychologist. I just got labelled lazy which added to the frustration as I was working so hard to try and master it.

But challenges were not excusive to math, one of the biggest and still most difficult tasks is reading clocks analogue or a digital. Trying to work out the time when numbers are creating havoc is impossible. And a 24-hour digital is no better, you can’t image how many times I have turned up to an appointment at the wrong time as I have misunderstood the time. either too early or too late. This also extends to dates. In my early twenties I turned up to a job interview on the wrong day as I miss read the date. They were surprised when I arrived and quipped I was early, explained how much early and proceeded to interview me. The first question; ‘what is you attention to detail like’. I didn’t get the job.

Then there are phones, do you remember back in the 80s and 90s, when phones were attached to a wall, and you had to dial the number? Well, I do, and it is a horrific memory. I could dial the same number incorrectly serval times, resulting in an embarrassing exchange with the person I had disturbed on the other side. Resulting in epic meltdowns. As an adult the phone issue persists but know there is the technology to have all your number stored on your phone, and most numbers you can dial straight from the web on your mobile, which is much easier. But I still hate phoning people due to all the childhood trauma and avoid it where possible.

Technology may help on some ways, like the phone, but with others it is getting increasingly difficult to navigate. This is because of digitalisation and the ever-growing reliance on pin codes both pure numerical and also letter and numbers (remember dyslexic too). I often can’t use my debit cards as I can’t get the four number correct. I once had a house with a pin-lock rather than a key, I spent hours locked out waiting for my husband to come home. So I come back to the tool that helps, by phone, as I note my pin code on there.

Then there was France. A holiday with a friend and her son and mine. Which was lovely until, I had my phone stolen. Before you ask, no I don’t speak French. It was tricky enough mastering English (dyslexia). So I am stuck in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and I can’t use my debit cards because I can’t get the number right. It was isolating, embarrassing and far from relaxing.

But by far the biggest obstacle is that people are not aware of it, or its impact, and treat you as if you are deficient on the intelligence front. This is why the protagonist in my latest novel ‘Ashley Grimes Mammoth Whisperer’ has both dyslexia and dyscalculia.

A few years ago, the BBC news ran an article about a professional dancer who has severe dyscalculia, I posted it everywhere, and many adults replied who also have it. They were all very interested to hear that I was writing a children’s book with the main protagonist that has dyscalculia. All of them wishing they could have a read a book as a child with someone like them reflected, so they knew they would have known they weren’t alone. So, I have worked really hard o make my own voice depiction as accurate authentic and positive as possible and am now embarking on submitting hoping it will find a home and maybe provide the sort of reading experience for children with dyscalculia that me and other people would have loved to have had as children. An acknowledgement and knowing they are not the only ones.

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