It is so interesting to be asked to write about the experience of having dyscalculia; it rather goes against my lifelong instincts to hide the issue, but it’s also something of a relief to address it. It’s something I’ve always been ashamed of, which has been compounded by the lack of recognition – I have tried to be bold occasionally and use the word ‘dyscalculia’, but mostly that’s been scoffed at. I think that’s really beginning to change now, precisely because of initiatives like the Dyscalculia Network.
I’ve pushed it so far under the radar and grown around it so completely (like those gnarly trees that grow around obstacles) that it’s actually quite hard to articulate clearly what’s distinctive about the experience. There are plenty of things deriving from the dyscalculia that cause a continual throb of anxiety but that feeling is so habitual that it doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy. Budgeting for instance – I’m not good at mental arithmetic and have to labour over really simple sums; timetabling is also a real problem – I have to draw lots of little clock faces to work out periods of time – when an appointment should end, when to leave the house to arrive at an appointment on time. I used to flip clock faces (quarter to becomes quarter past), but that seems to happen less now. Dates are also a problem: the numbers just don’t seem to have any traction in my mind, and I’ll double book things because I don’t recognise the numbers. These are all fairly significant life skills and I think the accumulative effect has led to a deep conviction of general ineptness.
But still, there is one eternal source of joy: the endless gratitude for having got through the days of compulsory maths education. That really acute panic about the bewildering and upsetting mystery of maths lessons with that all important, entirely impossible GCSE towering beyond. To my stunned disbelief I managed to pass the exam, and now I’m a parent I can see the toll that must have taken on my parents: managing a panic-stricken child is no fun! Luckily my children don’t seem to have particular problems with maths – and by about the age of 8, both were easily outstripping me (that has its own issues obviously – I’m not much good when they do need help).
That GCSE has meant I’ve avoided the worst of the professional restrictions that face people with dyscalculia and for that I am so grateful. I’m grateful, too, that there’s an increasing conversation around the issue, which allows me to feel less alone and less uniquely dysfunctional.