Welp, today is World Dyscalculia Day. Every March third in fact. I am not going to give you a Dyscalculia 101, it’s 2015. Instead I am going to give you a little look inside the dyscalculic brain(yes I use identity first language). Dyscalculia is not Math Dyslexia, and it doesn’t just vanish with a little hard work. It is not a mild disorder either. We are stuffed in seclusion rooms for it. I was. I was finally diagnosed coming up on nine years now and it’s been an arduous journey of self discovery and self acceptance. So in honour of today I am going to do a mini-masterpost. It will be quick, dirty and unforgiving. So buckle your belts and get ready.
A quick overview:
Dyscalculia is instead a neurobiological issue with subitising, sensing time, and orienting one’s self in space. Placeblindness is common, so is dyspraxia. It is also a problem of attention(though not of selective attention such as is seen in ad/hd) and working memory(as well as executive functioning). Other visual dysgnosias are also comorbid, as are autism spectrum disorders. It is not dyslexia, it is not anxiety, is it not laziness. It is the way the brain is built and organised. It is part of the neurodiversity movement. Preliminary research suggests that Dyscalculia spikes on EEG scans may mimic Rolandic Epilepsy. I have no say on that other than that it suggests a physical/physiological or sensory backing to Dyscalculia. All that is fine and good to infodump on someone or write up in some impartial report, but,
What’s it feel like?
Imagine trying to process something and instead there is nothing. There is a black void in your brain where processes should be taking place. Sometimes you might catch a glimpse of clarity, only to have it sucked up in the black hole in the brain. Numbers and space are not intuitive. They are easily confused. Where math happens in other people’s brains, nothing happens in yours. Certainly this is not the case for everyone, as many Dyscalculics make good physicists(the reason is because mathematics and arithmetic and spatial orientation happen in different parts of the brain).
Imagine forgetting what you’re doing AS you’re doing it. That’s Dyscalculia. You trying doing BEDMAS when you forget what the last step of it you did was.
Imagine trying so hard to understand numbers that you stop processing them at all. Your brain becomes overloaded and stops understanding the meaning of the symbols. That is Dyscalculia.
Imagine getting trapped in a corner and being injured because your brain couldn’t orient your body in space. That’s Dyscalculia.
Imagine that it is heavy and almost physically painful to try to distinguish the amount of something, or what an arithmetical or logical word problem is. That’s Dyscalculia.
It isn’t just being bad at math.
With that being said,
Top things not say to a Dyscalculic:
“If you just tried harder.” There is no try harder. Sometimes there are cants.
“What, are you slow?” Slow is a slur used against LD people. It’s not okay to use.
“I bet if you give me some time I could help you/fix you.” No you totally cant. Save us all the headache. We aren’t your lab project, or special interest group. We’re people.
“Is that like Dyslexia?” Nope. Some of us may switch numbers but it isnt necessary for diagnosis.
“Oh Im Dyscalculic sometimes too. I totally mix up numbers and get my times tables wrong sometimes.” Again. No. Being bad at math is common. Dyscalculia, well, is not. Being bad at math is an issue of practice and skill. Being Dyscalculic is the way the brain is organised and how it processes input and output.
“It must be your Dyscalculia that makes you bad at X, Y and Z.” Super Nope. Not everything is Dyscalculia. If you tell me that I am misinterpretting what you’re saying because Im Dyscalculic, you can, basically, just go to hell. We are done here. This is similar to the age old “It’s just your ____ talking.” as a way to invalidate someone. It’s super not okay to do. Ever. Part of Dyscalculia is actually having a high savant like interpretation and comprehension of verbal patterns. So yeah, we’re actually better than you at that. Too bad for you. Nice try though.
“Albert Einstein was Dyscalculic.” No he wasn’t.
“But you seem so smart.” Oh, we are. In many ways smarter than you, in fact, which leads me to,
All the strengths we have:
It might make you feel bad that we’re better than you non-LD/NT people at things, but basically, deal with it. We spend our whole lives being told what we can’t do. When we’re young and unrecognised, we are told we’re lazy, we can’t live up to expectations. When we’re recognised, any strength we have is discounted when an NT or non-LD individual doesn’t agree with us. In the DSM 5 there is now a “Math Disorder” category separating pure Dyscalculia which is diagnosed differently from general math problems. For someone to have Dyscalculia they not only have to be bad at math, but really good at verbal pattern recognition. This might sound contradictory because many of us are Autistic, but language disfluency or auditory recognition disfluencies don’t actually contradict conversational pattern recognition. When I had my million and one assessment tests, my verbal pattern recognition skills came back in the 99th percentile.
What does this mean? It means that, logically, I can tell when you’re trying some BS debate tactic on me. I further honed a skill I am savant-like at, by taking verbal logic courses in school. Because I knew I was damn good at it. If I wasn’t the type to go nonverbal or struggle with anxiety, I’d make a hella great politician. It means that, logically, I can pick up on linguistic patterns faster than anyone else I know. I’ve only met one linguistic savant better than me in my life, and he was an autistic savant(whereas I am not, I just have regular old Dyscalculic diagnosis spikes and strengths that non-LD or NT people are physiologically incapable of).
Other strengths I possess is a highly developed tactile intuition, and many other Dyscalculics do too. Because we can’t rely on eyesight or mathematical or spatial intuition to get around, tell time, measure, count, grocery shop and pick out a pound of apples with a scale, we rely on our tactile sense similar to how those who are Blind rely on touch. It means we can tell what we’re doing and learn best by using our hands. Even those of us who are dyspraxic are good at this. It means I can feel out a pound of apples and almost always be accurate just by using my hands and arms much more than trying to use a scale to figure it out. It also means I have a fairly accurate sense of my own weight which I have rarely gotten wrong. Last time I went to get my weight checked at the doctor, I got my own weight dead on and the scale reflected that. My own hypersensitive sense of touch due to Autism, I believe, contributes to that.
The above strengths are again and again objectively measured and quantified as the standard profile of Dyscalculics. These strengths are called sensory compensation and responsive navigation, respectively.
If there was one thing I would wish non-LD/NT people would realise it is that each and every neurology is made up of specific weaknesses and pathologies that shouldnt be discounted as “just not trying hard enough” but also that our strengths should not be discounted because we are disabled. We simply have a more varied and erratic neuro-physiological profile than typically developing brains do. It means we are rarely average.
For me, Dyscalculia is part of my Autism Fruit Salad. It makes me me. And yes, I can tell when you’re debating poorly, even if you tried to do it in Yiddish.