I KNEW I was math(s)-dyslexic! I’ve said it for years.
I’m okay at doing mathematical calculations in an academic context—I made it to calculus-level in high school and did well. My math score on the ACT brought down my otherwise high scores in other subjects, but I did fine in and enjoyed math-based physics courses at university. As someone who now does a bit of film editing, I’m good at working with time codes and related numerical concepts. But I’m terrible with maths and numbers in social situations, especially if there’s pressure to perform well.
Example: the other day I was making a dinner reservation over the phone and I had to give M’s mobile number. Which I know by heart; I can easily recite it because there’s a certain rhythm I’ve ascribed to its playback in my head. Writing it down is another matter. I usually get confused and have to give up and copy it from my own mobile directory. Anyway, I was reciting this number over the phone when the woman on the other end told me to hang on for a sec after I’d said only the first few digits or so. When she came back to the phone she tried to start me in the middle of the phone number but I couldn’t do it. I tried to start over from the beginning, but then I got too flustered. Were there two “1”s? Were there 3 “0”s? I couldn’t do it. I had to tell her numbers aren’t my forte and hand the phone over to M. It was sort of funny at the time, but this sort of thing happens to me all the time.
So today I came across this list of symptoms for the learning disability “dyscalculia”—like dyslexia but with numbers. Ignoring the fact that there are numerous typos and misspellings in the list, some of these really hit home in a scary way:
“May have fear of money and cash transactions…”
I hate the moment in shops and restaurants when it’s time to pay for something and I’ve got a lot of change instead of notes. I get flustered; I break out in a cold sweat; I drop the money on the floor; I want to run home, leaving my groceries behind. This may be why I usually try to pay with large notes, and why we’ve amassed what looks to be about £200 in change at our house (last I counted—and I LIKE counting; I’m really NOT bad at maths in the right circumstances--it was at £75).
“May be unable to mentally figure change due back, the amounts to pay for tips, taxes, etc…”
And don’t even try to get me to calculate a tip; especially when the rules are so ambiguous in the UK anyway. For anything under £40 I’d rather just leave an extra £5 and not suffer the agony of trying to calculate on the spot; as a former suffering waitress, I have no problem with that. I love going to bars in the US because the $1-per-drink tip rule is the one thing I can get right and that allows me to pretend I’m normal. And taxes? Don't make me laugh. Have never filed them.
“Fails to see the big financial picture…”
Hmm, let’s not get into my student loan debt here. Because I honestly couldn’t tell you how much I owe. Well, I could, but only because M. made me compile a list of all my loans recently so that we can keep track of it. It had never really occurred to me that I owed so much. Or that I have to pay it back. With something called “interest.” Why did I never think about it?
“Poor with money and credit. Cannot do financial planning or budgeting…”
See above; M. also helped me make a list of what I spend and what I make and what I owe to help me learn to budget. I've always avoided having credit cards because they seem too complicated. I do have a few now--subsidiary cards of M. and my parents. But I rarely use them because they scare me. I stick to my debit card and non-coin cash and am usually fine. Money in, money out, change back from bills for the ever growing coin pile: good enough.
“Gets lost or disoriented easily. May have a poor sense of direction, loose [sic] things often, and seem absent minded…”
One time I spent a whole hour searching for a friend’s house I'd never visited; I was staying there while he was out of town. His directions were good and detailed. But I went in circles over and over again, and then I found a map but apparently read it backwards and went around in circles in the opposite direction. A policmeman came and helped me; I was flustered because it was getting late and I had started crying and it occurred to me that I had a serious mental disability. It turned out that at no time was I more than block away from my destination. And don’t get M. started on my inablilty to navigate when he’s driving. That said, once I know a place, I never get lost. And I can usually find places just by "feel" (it's not like I get lost in airports or shopping malls or while running on the seafront)--I just can't make sense of directions and maps somtimes. Oh, and I used to lose things all the time (I’m still sad over that calculator watch I drunkenly lost in the Oxford Students' Union in '97!), but I trained myself not to when I started wearing an engagement ring. And of course I’m absent-minded. I’ve always been a daydreamer, and now I’m supposedly an academic. What do you want?
“Difficulty keeping score during games, or difficulty remembering how to keep score in games, like bowling, etc. Often looses [sic] track of whose turn it is during games, like cards and board games…”
Most people know I HATE card games because it takes me ages to comprehend them, and who's turn it is, and I get flustered. But damn if I don’t love some Yahtzee, and that’s based on numbers. And I never forget whose turn it is in games where the order of play is sequentially determined by where you're sitting, especially if there’s a drinking component to the game.
And as for some of the other listed symptoms, I don’t mix up people’s names unless they’re boring people, and I’m great with remembering dates and times of something interesting that happened/is going to happen, and I'm able to “visualize” things far more than is probably healthy.
But I mix up right and left. All the time. That’s not on the list; it just occurred to me that it feels related somehow. And I’m terribly shy when it comes to speaking in public spontaneously—it’s as bad as being asked to perform math on demand; I want to run away. I've always felt there was a common thread between all these idiosyncracies, such as my left-handedness. Probably there is none.
By the way, the site I got my list of dyscalculia symptoms from is charging $500 for an online diagnostic test. No wonder "dyscalculiacs" have a "fear of money and cash transactions" if that's what it takes to get diagnosed!