From first grade through college school was always easy for me. I was reading by age 3, LOVED social studies, and I thought science was cool. I was in Gifted and Talented classes and went to academic summer camps. I didn't really have to try that hard to get good grades... except in one class.
Anything with numbers was a challenge. Keeping score, card games where numbers matter, and don't even get me started on fractions.
In high school, no matter how hard I tried, how long I stayed after school, or how much time I spent trying to memorize concepts, the highest math grad I ever got was a C+. I couldn't understand why everything else came easily but math didn't. I knew I was smart, so why couldn't I do better in math?
My mom knew I was trying hard in math classes, so she didn't give me a hard time about it. I was excelling in everything else so she didn't worry, and I just chalked it up to being "bad at math".
Then one day in college, I had a thought.
"If dyslexia is a learning disability in how the brain deals with reading, could there be dyslexia but with numbers? Is there a math learning disability?"
I did some googling and I learned that such a thing did exist: Dyscalculia. The math learning disability.
I went through the symptom list and I had experienced about 95% of them.
Things started to click.
I contacted my college's learning disability accommodation folks, and then got in touch with the firm who had conducted a battery of learning assessments on me when I was 10. Their response?
"Oh wow. We should have caught this."
I had been so high above my grade level in all areas that they hadn't taken much notice of the massive relative deficiencies in the areas that would indicate dyscalculia.
I was SO relieved. Suddenly, it wasn't my fault anymore. It wasn't that I was lazy. It wasn't that I was slacking. It wasn't that I didn't care. (All things my math teachers had said over the years.)
My brain was wired differently.
Other than the relief of knowing my number challenges aren't because I'm secretly stupid, my diagnosis hasn't really affected my life because I found out so late in my academic career.
If I had been diagnosed earlier, it would have made a huge difference. I would have been able to receive special accommodations in math classes, colleges would have understood my grades better, and the constant disappointment from my math teachers would have been mitigated, or at least easier to handle.
But here's the real problem: most people don't even know that dyscalculia exists.
I went back to visit my high school and told a math teacher (who had given me a particularly hard time) about my diagnosis. Her response?
"Dyscalculia? What's that?"
A math teacher didn't even know about this math learning disability.
So today, on World Dyscalculia Day, I'm sharing my story in the hope that maybe you'll recognize the symptoms in yourself, in your child, or in a classmate and tell them about the math learning disability. Ask teachers you know if they've heard of it. Let's be proactive so that more students can receive the help they need.