BBC Young Reporter of the Year – Rose
I’m Rose, I’m eighteen and I am one of the national winners of the BBC Young Reporter Competition 2022 and so recently told my story with the BBC. Quite exciting, isn’t it? I suppose you’re wondering what I reported on? As tempting as writing about my brilliant ability to answer any question on Harry Potter ever, I didn’t think that would really be ‘winner’ worthy, so I decided to talk about my life with Dyscalculia. I like to call it ‘a world without numbers’.
This means that for me, I struggle with numbers. Like, really struggle with numbers. I can’t read a clock, both analogue or digital. I find using coins and counting money nearly impossible. Measuring how long something is in my head is difficult, meaning if someone told me to meet them in 15 minutes I wouldn’t be able to picture how long 15 minutes is. Basically, anything with a number in, I don’t seem to get along with.
Numbers aren’t just an issue for a person with Dyscalculia. I also struggle with sequencing in general. This means I can’t remember people’s birthdays, I can’t get the months of the year in order, I can’t equate what number matches what month (like how July is the seventh month in the year), I can’t picture what before and after mean and I also don’t understand my left and rights.
Of course there are numbers everywhere and to get through life, you have at some point got to deal with them whether you want to or not.
At a young age during primary school I was always behind in maths class, teachers concerned as to why I couldn’t do the work. My mum also noticed my struggle with numbers, having detected in drawings that I wrote my numbers back-to-front.
Eventually, around the age of ten, I discovered the term ‘Dyscalculia’ via a math lesson. Someone in the class was complaining that they were doing difficult maths, whereas I was doing simpler maths. They wanted to know why they couldn’t do the work I was doing.
“Because Rose has Dyscalculia,” the teacher had answered, leaving me very confused indeed.
It left me asking lots of questions. What’s Dyscalculia? Does my family know I have it? What am I having for dinner tonight… oh wait, no that was a different kind of question. Either way, I went home that night asking my mum what the term meant and she was equally muddled. Together, we had to take to the internet and find our own answers.
Since then I have developed my own strategies. My mum sets timers on my phone to help me know when things are. I can listen to songs of a certain length to help me decipher how long I need to wait for something (for example, three Taylor Swift songs equate to roughly ten minutes).
Even during high school, I had to admit to teachers I was struggling with my timed exams as I had no way of knowing how long I needed to spend on a question, finding myself being too slow on finishing a paper and losing marks. Although I was given support for my exams, my technique in the end was to stuff as much information in my head as possible so that I would keep writing in an exam and not need to stop, no longer taking too long on a question – though this wasn’t the healthiest of techniques, it worked wonders as I passed every exam with flying colours (accept maths…).
Once I had left school I began to panic. How was I going to be an adult if I couldn’t even go to a shop to buy bread and milk? How would I cope at work if someone asked me for change on a till and I couldn’t figure it out? I had even once picked up two boxes of cereal thinking them to be ‘2 for 50p’, only to realise they were £2.50.
I needn’t have worried. I plucked up the courage and decided to apply for an internship for a year at a place full of creativity, where days are spent planning children’s events, dressing up as a fun character, performing in general and using my love of literature to inspire children.
When I went for the interview, I had to explain my Dyscalculia and how that would affect my work. Luckily, one of the interviewers had a friend who also had Dyscalculia and was more than willing to give me any support I needed so my confidence was boosted.
And I got the job! Since starting I have really jumped out of my comfort zone as I also had to figure out the world of buses and timetables so I could get to work. Now, I am able to get onto buses easily with thanks to my mum (who sets timers on my phone) as well as getting on with my job and doing it well with the support my co-workers give me. This shows I really had nothing to worry about and that Dyscalculia shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals in life.
That is the story I wanted to share when in February I spotted the opportunity to enter the annual BBC Young Reporter Competition, which allows 11-18 year olds across the UK to suggest an original story idea and potentially produce it with the BBC. I remember finding an advert for it on my Instagram and pondering whether my story with Dyscalculia would be worth entering. I asked my Nana at the time, who with much enthusiasm told me to absolutely go for it. She knew this would be a great opportunity to spread awareness for Dyscalculia, which is still greatly under-researched and not well known. I thank my Nana a great deal for giving me a very loving push to enter!
So I sent in a little draft which I’d written on my phone, not too sure as to whether I would be picked and I had started to accept that my story hadn’t been considered. Maybe I should have gone with Harry Potter after all? Then suddenly, my mum got a phone call asking if I could talk to one of the producers further as part of the shortlisting process! For the first time I sat down and really explained to a reporter at the BBC how my life worked being someone with Dyscalculia, which felt difficult as I often find it embarrassing having to explain how bad at numbers I actually am.
Then in the summer, I received another unexpected phone call to tell me I was one of the national winners for 2022. This had been a very chaotic moment, as me and my family were having dinner at the time in a rather rural area – me and my mum were stood outside a pub whilst trying to ignore the really loud tractors rumbling past us, both of us slightly teary and also flabbergasted! It hadn’t put me off my desert though, don’t worry.
Now, five months later, I have an official report published on the BBC News website and social media – a video feature which explains my Dyscalculia to more than just a person on the phone – now a much wider audience can find out more about it (at the time of writing this) 480, 128 views on Instagram. Even I can understand that that’s a pretty big number!
I’ve also now spoken to the BBC Access All podcast with Cat, the founder of the Dyscalculia Network and an audio version of my report has been produced for BBC Sounds.
I feel I have come a long way from cringing at the thought of explaining to teachers or co-workers about my Dyscalculia. I hope my report on the topic has helped educate a lot of people who had simply never heard of the disability before as well as aid others with Dyscalculia who have before felt very alone as I once did growing up.
It’s an incredible feeling knowing that my story is causing a change in how people see Dyscalculia, or even seeing at all. I hope this might in some way help people to get a diagnosis a little earlier giving them chance to learn ways of working with and around dyscalculia making school or day to day life a little easier. It might also tell someone that they aren’t stupid; they just see the world differently.
I have now made friends with my Dyscalculia. Having now spoken and written openly about my struggles, I can see how much of positive impact it’s making on educating others. I feel more confident to speak about Dyscalculia more openly, knowing I’m making a difference – hopefully giving others with Dyscalculia the enthusiastic push to share their stories too.
Roald Dahl once said in his novel ‘Matilda’ during 1988, “if a little pocket calculator can do it why shouldn’t I?”
Well, I say let’s go beyond the ‘little pocket calculator’. Why don’t we simply ask, ‘why shouldn’t I?’ Why shouldn’t I accomplish my goals in life simply because I can’t count the change in my pocket? Why shouldn’t I do the best I possibly can in an exam simply because I don’t know how long I should be writing my answers? And finally, why shouldn’t I enter a competition to tell others how my brain is the complete opposite of a calculator and that that’s okay.
Dyscalculia doesn’t stop me achieving in life. I don’t now focus on what I can’t do; I focus on what I can do because having Dyscalculia does not make me an idiot. In fact, I feel I am a more creative person because of it, making me special and my own individual.
I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. So yes, I’m Rose, I’m eighteen and I’ve got Dyscalculia. And that’s alright with me.
– Link to BBC Young Reporter Competition – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/5CMVJkhS4wGbzC1Ylmz3FxB/bbc-young-reporter-competition
– Link to my video report on the BBC News website: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/disability-63464239