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What Is Dyscalculia & Could You Have It?

Understanding the Learning Disability Nobody Talks About

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You have probably heard of the learning disability "Dyslexia," but its close cousin Dyscalculia rarely comes up in conversation. Despite its low-profile reputation, the disorder is actually quite common—statistics show that approximately 3-6 percent of school children suffer from Dyscalculia, with it resulting in being the leading cause of 5-8 percent of mathematical difficulties.

By definition, Dyscalculia is, "the severe difficulty in making arithmetical calculations, as a result of brain disorder."

But what is it like to experience this type of mental difficulty?

As a sufferer of the disability myself, I know first-hand that Dyscalculia isn't just about jumbled-up numbers floating aimlessly in your psyche. It affects day-to-day life, and can mean the difference between finishing education and leading an unsuccessful career path. You can experience various difficulties—from understanding maps and designs, reading a clock, memory loss and exchanging money—to anxiety, poor self-judgement and even depression. Dyscalculia can leave you feeling worthless and embarrassed, especially when you're unsure of how much change to give a customer, or how much your groceries are going to cost. And then there was elementary and secondary schooling. The teacher would ask a question, you'd slouch back in your seat, avoiding eye contact, praying to God he/she didn't ask you for the answer—and when they did, it was. So. Damn. Mortifying.

Due to its complexity and variety, Dyscalculia tends to have multiple leading causes. For example: A diagnosis could be hereditary, meaning it was passed down through one or both parents, but it could also be the cause of other neurological differences (Dyslexia, ADHD, Epilepsy, etc), or, in some cases, it could be the cause of both. In my case, the cause is hard to determine, but if I had to guess, I'd blame genetics (Thanks, dad).

If what you've just read sounds eerily like you, you could have Dyscalculia. But not to worry—there's a lot more support out there than you might think. Despite the severe difficulties in learning that Dyscalculia brings, everyday life is a lot easier than most may think. Personally, I'm a very creative person, so it's not likely I'll be becoming an accountant anytime soon (Not that accountants aren't creative. If you are one, go you!). My point is, there are plenty of career opportunities waiting for you out there that involve very little mathematical thinking.

So how do you get diagnosed? Typically, if you're a student, professional screening can be performed by a psychologist with experience in learning difficulty. These screenings can vary in performance over a course of weeks, to months, to years. From experience, my screening lasted a duration of six weeks, consisting of different tests every appointment. These tests involve different exercises including writing, reading, calculations, and drawing. Once your psychologist has come to his or her conclusion via testing, you will receive confirmation of your diagnosis—most probably in the form of both a written and digital report, which are completely confidential, meaning you don't have to share them with anyone you feel uncomfortable with doing so. I recommend supplying your school with an onsite copy to be placed on your file. This way, staff can look back on your report for further understanding or to find extra support for in-class exercises/easier work for studying.

In conclusion, Dyscalculia exists. It is completely detectable and completely real. If you're like me, you'll know how difficult and frustrating Dyscalculia can be to deal with. Though it shouldn't stop you from achieving your goals. There is so much support out there. Don't let one small brain disorder stop you from reaching for the stars—even if you can't calculate your landing. 

For more information on Dyscalculia, visit http://www.dyscalculia.org/ 

Ronit Bird is a Dyscalculic specialist. You can find her website and resources here: http://www.ronitbird.com/dyscalculia/

If you're feeling desperately lonely, afraid, or suicidal, it'll be totally okay. I promise. Phone Lifeline at 13 11 14 (inside Australia) or visit here for international help: 
http://ibpf.org/resource/list-international-suicide-hotlines

My World Without Numbers: Line Rothmann TEDx

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