health student life

Understanding Dyscalculia

Written by RosieChalk

What actually is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty that affects the understanding and processing of maths. It can also affect your ability to read analogue clocks, work out mathematical calculations inside your head, judging distances, counting backwards and reading out numbers the wrong way round or upside down.

How does it affect children?

During school I had absolutely no idea that this was actually a learning difficulty that I could have been supported with. Maths was my worst subject and I was very far behind the other kids. It took me years to be able to tell the time properly and understand 24 hour clock times.

I also struggled with completing work sheets in time during the lessons and struggled to answer mental math questions. I often forgot the number I was supposed to be working with and couldn’t  visualise what I needed to add or take away from it to get the answer. This made me dread the lesson and made me feel like there was something wrong with me.

Since dyscalculia can also affect spatial awareness and balance, team physical activity was difficult and humiliating. In the games I couldn’t hit, catch or throw the ball, it would go sailing pass my head or hands on to the floor. In swimming, I found it almost impossible to move my arms and legs and breathe properly at the same time.

As I got older and started studying for GCSE’s, I received extra tuition after school as well as other work books to do with my mum to help me get grade I needed. This was incredibly challenging and required a lot of hard work to understand basic concepts of fractions, percentages, pie charts, rows of data on excel and algebra. I did secure a C grade, which is a standard passing grade here in the UK and the minimum for most jobs. However, my difficulties didn’t end there.

Dyscalculia in adulthood

During adulthood, Dyscalculia can affect you in many other ways. For example, I am often far too early to interviews or meeting friends as I underestimate the time it takes to get somewhere. If someone asks me ” How long will you be?”, I blankly stare at the clock on my phone trying to work out the speed that I’m walking at, and how far the destination is to estimate an arrival time. I often get this wrong judging it myself.

Google Maps on my phone is really helpful at telling you rough arrival times, so I usually use this to combat this issues. However, when I am searching for a place I have never been to before, it is really difficult to follow the directions and visualise them in my head and sometimes I can get my left and right confused. Terms like East and West, are confusing also, I have to use my hands to visualise this instruction and use the rhyme “Never Eat Shredded Wheat”.

I find it difficult to walk in a straight line and often walk in to things. My lack of spatial awareness makes it really difficult to keep myself the right distance away from objects and people. This is incredibly frustrating and embarrassing, it takes a lot of effort and concentration when I am walking around to make sure that I don’t injure myself or someone else.

My first ever job was a customer service assistant which involved using a till. I hated every minute of this role. A lot of the time the till would break down leaving me to work out how much change to give on the spot if there wasn’t a calculator on hand which resulted in to me getting this wrong and customers getting impatient with me.

I also had to read and input complicated paperwork to return certain larger and more expensive items, read out long numbers and alter the transaction when a customer said to me ” I’ve got the 16p”. Sometimes I get confused between numbers and read them upside down or the wrong way round. For example: 5879659 might read to me as 5876956 or I will read out £4.57 to tell a customer the total and say £5.47 instead.

Piggy bank

How can I support someone who has dyscalculia?

Being patient is key. Numeral information is hard to process and can take longer to understand. Exploring different methods that work for the individual person such as using colours, diagrams and step by step instructions or props can be extremely helpful in visualising mathematical problems. Dyscalculia is a recognised learning difficulty that you can be assessed for which allows schools, work places, colleges and universities to put measures in place to support you or your child.

With directions and spatial awareness, writing left and right on your hands or having an object on one hand ( I have a tattoo on my left hand and none on my right)  is super helpful, particularly when driving and trying to describe to someone where an item is. To help me with walking in a straight line, I often use a point of focus so this could be the side of a path, a fence or a wall and I try to keep my fet the same distance apart from them.

Finally, listen to what the person is telling you about their dyscalculia and treat them individually.They will suggest ways to help that work for them. It makes everyday things such as understanding bills, spreadsheets, jobs, money, maths homework, presenting answers in class and more very challenging so please be considerate and remember that our brains all work and process in different ways.