I’ve always had a problem distinguishing left from right. I mean, I know the difference, but not in the sense that if you say, “Go left” I would automatically turn to my left.
I typically have to take a decent amount of time to process it, run mental tests, and then make sure I’m about to actually turn to the left.
In other words, that knowledge is not innate. It’s a constant struggle to remember.
I’ve always just assumed this was some sort of weird quirk, one that I should just add to the pile of other countless quirks I possess. But after doing some late night Googling, I discovered something that was not only amazing, but most definitely would have been beneficial to know when I was growing up.
Because I have an English degree and I like to write and do all sorts of other creative things, I typically joke that I’m just plain bad at math. In the sense that because I excel at these other things, there’s just no room in my brain for math, hence my inability to do even the simplest problems. (I mean, I literally have issues with basic subtraction. No seriously. And carrying numbers over? Forget it.)
I have to write even the most elementary math problems on paper, or better yet, use a calculator. You see, I can’t visualize numbers. It’s as if my mind’s eye is blind to them. Put it this way, if you were to say, “What’s 100 minus 37?” and asked me to mentally tell you, I couldn’t—at least not in a reasonable amount of time.
When I go to think about it, the numbers sort of just fade out from the mental picture. It’s kind of like mathematical Whack-a-Mole in there. The numbers just fade in and out until I just finally grab a sheet of paper and write them down so I can plainly see them.
Additionally, I’ve always had a harder time reading analog clocks. I remember this issue clearly in about Kindergarten when we were learning to tell time. I couldn’t freaking do it. And many times to this day, I transpose the time (mix up the big and little hands), or have to count by 5’s to know what time it is if it’s not on the 12, 3, 6, or 9. Thank goodness for digital.
So what do knowing my right from my left and not being able to do math have to do with each other?
It’s a learning disability called Dyscalculia or Math Blindness. It’s basically Dyslexia, but with numbers.
Well, not just numbers, also sense of direction and time, and a bunch of other things that I’ve always had issue with, but just thought it was because I was just kind of, well, uncoordinated or bad at.
For example, in high school I was a cheerleader. I always hated learning new cheers and moreover I hated learning the choreography for the yearly dance number. I had a hard time following the moves. More often than not, if the instructor would do a move with her right arm, there my left arm would go, flailing about, sticking out like a sore thumb. It used to drive me crazy---and when I’m trying to learn a new workout routine, it STILL drives me crazy. My brain just can’t pick it up as fast as other people.
Another trait of Dyscalculia is not being able to put names with faces. This is why I typically fail to introduce people to each other, because I fear I won’t recall their names properly. Dyscalculics will typically call people the wrong name, but will remember the first letter of the name (for instance, referring to a guy named Bob as “Bill”), which I find myself doing quite often.
Wanna know a secret? I’ve been on an improv team for over a year, and I STILL have a hard time remembering the Toms and the Tims. Even though I know these people super well. And I avoided calling Laughs by his first name for quite some time because I was afraid I’d screw it up. Of course, once I truly get to know people, that issue goes away, but they’ve gotta be a regular fixture in my everyday life for that to happen.
Of course, I’ve self-diagnosed my Dyscalculia. Firstly because when I was in school, no one really knew what it was and secondly because I see no reason to actually take myself to a doctor and get a note. So unless I find myself in a job or situation where this information would be helpful to me being successful or for a boss or partner to be aware of it, I’ll probably just remain self-diagnosed.
The funny thing is, I actually feel better knowing that there’s a legitimate neurological issue at play, and not that I’m just absent-minded, forgetful, or incompetent. In high school Algebra class, I felt like the biggest idiot in the room. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get it. Especially with tests. I remember my teacher looking at me some days, like, “What the fuck is wrong with you?! How are you not getting this? Are you not trying?”
But I did try. Until I finally just gave up. I mean, I’d tested into the non-credit math class.
I wanted to blog about this because it took 30 damn years to figure it out. And also if we’re ever hanging out, and I motion to the right when I’m talking about my left…just let it happen. I can’t really help it. But feel free to point it out so I can correct myself.
If you’re interested in reading more of the symptoms, I’m putting them below. I have all of them, with the exception of the last one (although I couldn’t take stats or keep score at a baseball game. But chess? Dude. I rock at chess. Believe this.). And if you know me in real life, you'll recognize how many of these do apply.
The cool thing is, I just look at is as something that makes me inherently me, not a disability, but more like, the Universe wanted me to focus on my strengths, like writing and creativity, so my brain wasn't built with the ability to comprehend math and such as strongly. And if that's not a cue to follow my dreams, I don't know what is.
- · Normal or accelerated language acquisition: verbal, reading, writing. Poetic ability. Good visual memory for the printed word. Good in the areas of science (until a level requiring higher math skills is reached), geometry (figures with logic not formulas), and creative arts.
- · Difficulty with the abstract concepts of time and direction. Inability to recall schedules, and the sequences of past or future events. Unable to keep track of time. May be chronically late.
- · Mistaken recollection of names. Poor name/face retrieval. Substitute names beginning with same letter.
- · Inconsistent results in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Poor mental math ability. Poor with money and credit. Cannot do financial planning or budgeting. Checkbooks not balanced. Short term, not long term financial thinking. Fails to see big financial picture. May have fear of money and cash transactions. May be unable to mentally figure change due back, the amounts to pay for tips, taxes, etc.
- · When writing, reading and recalling numbers, these common mistakes occur: number additions, substitutions, transpositions, omissions, and reversals.
- · Inability to grasp and remember math concepts, rules, formulas, sequence (order of operations), and basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts.
- · Poor long term memory (retention & retrieval) of concept mastery- may be able to perform math operations one day, but draw a blank the next! May be able to do book work but fails all tests and quizzes.
- · May be unable to comprehend or "picture" mechanical processes. Lacks "big picture/ whole picture" thinking. Poor ability to "visualize or picture" the location of the numbers on the face of a clock, the geographical locations of states, countries, oceans, streets, etc.
- · Poor memory for the "layout" of things. Gets lost or disoriented easily. May have a poor sense of direction, may lose things often, and seem absent minded. (Remember the absent minded professor?)
- · May have difficulty grasping concepts of formal music education. Difficulty sight-reading music, learning fingering to play an instrument, etc.
- · May have poor athletic coordination, difficulty keeping up with rapidly changing physical directions like in aerobic, dance, and exercise classes. Difficulty remembering dance step sequences, rules for playing sports.
- · Difficulty keeping score during games, or difficulty remembering how to keep score in games, like bowling, etc. Often loses track of whose turn it is during games, like cards and board games. Limited strategic planning ability for games, like chess.
For more information on Dyscalculia: http://www.dyscalculia.org/