Dyscalculia is one of the most difficult learning disabilities to diagnose in my view. I have never “officially” been diagnosed with Dyscalculia, and this is because in the UK there is apparently no official diagnosis. The closest thing to being diagnosed is an assessment and interview carried out by an Educational Psychologist, which is what I had (sort of, I’ll talk about it more at the end).
I’ve never been able to do Maths. I don’t think that I will ever be able to properly due to my anxiety towards the subject that not being able to understand it has brought on. When I was 5 years old and had just started Primary School, I can remember that I was in top sets for everything, or at least being given work that I was told was the most difficult. I was told that I was very clever and was praised especially for my Literacy skills. But then I got moved down a set in the Maths and Science subjects. I was 5 years old remember, and a 5 year old is usually confident and doesn’t hesitate to answer a question – most 5 year olds should be free of self doubt, but this completely knocked my confidence. I still ploughed on with English and writing stories and spelling, because that’s what I was good at and I liked hearing that I was good at it, but then Maths came and I became anxious. When I was 6 I took my SATs at the end of Key Stage 1, I got average marks, 2’s in English, Maths, and Science. Then I took them again at the end of Key Stage 2 when I was 10 and I got average marks then, 4’s in each subject. But I remember for practice we’d sit at our desks and have mini tests on times tables, which I became very nervous about and tried extremely hard to get right, because if you didn’t get one right and pass the test to move on to the next one, the entire class would know (I don’t think I ever got past the 6 times tables though, maybe 4). I struggled to learn to read a clock when I was 6 and it would take me ages to be able to work out the time (I only managed to do it with almost no hesitation at the age of 13 with help from a friend), I didn’t know my left and right until I was 9, I couldn’t do my number bonds to 100, I couldn’t subtract or add odd numbers that are “big numbers” (example: like 37-19 or 56+17), and I didn’t understand sequences or formulas. All of these things I still struggle with/have some hiccups with today.
One of the worst things about being Maths Dyslexic in school was the fact that none of the teachers picked up on it. Dyscalculia effects not only Maths, but Science, and in some cases Music. When I was doing my GCSEs, my Maths teacher would continuously split me up from my friends (which made me very anxious because I only had about 4 friends/people I felt comfortable sitting with in a class of 20), would send me out of the classroom, force me to look at a SMART Board screen which sent me into sensory overload, and call me thick almost every single lesson. It seemed like he did not believe in the fact I have ADHD and Asperger’s. As far as I’m aware, no other students in my class had any of these, so no one else was as “annoying” as I was, they just talked a bit too much as teenagers do. I won’t name this teacher or the school I went to, but he was one of the most unpleasant, horrible, poor excuses of a teacher I have ever had the misfortune to be taught by… and I’m sure he feels exactly the same about me. I told him once in front of the entire class when he moved me to sit right in front of screen that it didn’t do any wonders for my sensory issues because it hurt my eyes so I couldn’t look at it because of my Asperger’s. He just shrugged, said “oh, okay”, and didn’t do anything about it because he clearly did not care for my well being, he just cared that I was no longer talking to my friend in the back of the class (sitting right at the front of a room also made me very anxious and during my exams I had a special seating arrangement so I was in A20, the last seat in the first row right next to the wall). I’m turning this post into a hate post for my old Maths teacher though, so I better get back on track.
I ended up failing Maths. Badly. In England it’s a requirement that you resit your Maths and English exams until you pass the subject, but I failed so badly that I’m not even allowed to take Maths GCSE again, I have to take a different qualification called Functional Skills, which is basically the basics of Maths that you should learn in Primary School. Because I don’t know my basics. The problem with Functional Skills is that it’s not a GCSE, so I might not get good jobs, I might not be able to go to uni, my immediate future could not pan out how I want it to because I cannot do Mathematics. I do not understand how 72+28=100 (yes I had to Google that because I did not know what adds on to 72 to make 100. Surely it’s 38 not 28 if 70+30 makes 100?). I do not know what 20% off means. I do not know why letters are involved with numbers. I do not know why 2 is the value of 2 instead of 5. It baffles me.
I said earlier that Dyscalculia also can effect Science and sometimes Music, both subjects I also took at GCSE. Lucky for me Music wasn’t much of an issue because I’ve been reading sheet music since I was 5 so it’s just muscle memory now, plus I know I’m good at playing instruments. I told one of my teachers about how Dyscalculia could effect my Music and that might be why I struggled a bit in my lessons, and she listened and she told me she’d help me get through it, which she did and I am very grateful – I think my Music grade is the one I’m post proud of. However, Science was a whole other story. Don’t get me wrong, I love science, especially Astronomy and dinosaurs. The concept of space and other planets and life to be discovered is amazing. The thought of can be a bit daunting at times but at the same time thrilling – a bit like when you get on a rollercoaster. But I still didn’t do very well with Science. To every fact that I found interesting, especially with Chemistry and Physics, there was a Mathematical equation that I couldn’t get my head around. I studied so hard, I took my Chemistry part of the exam twice but I still managed to fail both times, and I took Physics once and failed. I managed to pass Biology though by 1 mark purely because there was no Maths involved, but I still failed my Science GCSEs as a whole. I would tell my Physics teacher time and time again that I didn’t understand what I was meant to be revising and that I hadn’t learnt everything that everyone else had learnt. He would then help me with one question I was stuck on and then give me a textbook to read through with information that was not in enough detail to understand. He kept telling me I’d be fine but I would panic every lesson because I wasn’t fine, I had already got a grade on my Core Science and I failed. A few months later I failed Additional Science (both Core and Additional Science were made up of 3 exams: 1 Biology, 1 Chemistry, 1 Physics, each based on 3 different topics within the subjects).
My school did not know what Dyscalculia was, and probably still don’t for the most part. The amount of teachers I told who just shrugged it off or would listen and I would ask them to research it and then I wouldn’t hear anything back from was unbelievable. I ended up paying £50 for a test online that would be assessed by Tony Attwood, an Educational Psychologist (which is the first part of the diagnosis as I said earlier), because I was the closest thing I could find to an actual diagnosis – the website is here if anyone is interested in getting themselves tested. He’ll get your report back to you highlighting what your struggles are so you can get help for school/work and will tell you if you seem to have Dyscalculia. To get the second part of the diagnosis though (the interview), you’ll probably have to talk to your school/work/GP or anyone you know who can support you. I’ve never had the interview part because no one around me knows how to get it or where to start with it, but I personally don’t think it’s worth having if I already have a detailed report carried out by an Educational Psychologist indicating that I am Dyscalculic.