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Mental Health

Dyscalculia: The Dyslexia of Numbers and How to Understand It

Dyscalculia is a math learning disability and according to Understood.org, it’s just as common as Dyslexia, but much less known. This article, hopefully, will help you understand more about this common learning disability and realize that Dyscalculia is valid. As a person who has been medically diagnosed with Dyscalculia, I want to spread awareness about Dyscalculia.

I always thought I was just incapable of doing math correctly during my elementary, middle, and high school years. It caused me to have a lot of nights where I cried at the table while my dad tried to help me with my math homework. During my junior year in high school, I was failing Algebra 2, and not because I wasn’t trying. I had a tutor, I went to after school help, and I still ended up getting 50s and 60s on my tests. It hurt my self-esteem a lot, so much that I had a panic attack after one of my math tests. After going to get testing done by a psychologist, she diagnosed me with Dyscalculia and my self-esteem with math got better because I realized that I wasn’t just stupid. 

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My story is just one of millions. Dyscalculia is a learning disability that is researched and known by psychologists, but the general public doesn’t know about it as much as they know about Dyslexia, which is similar but very different. In my case, I didn’t even know that Dyscalculia existed until I was a junior in high school. This is a topic that more people need to know about and understand so that they can accommodate people who have it.

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According to Understood.org, signs of Dyscalculia can include trouble understanding meanings of quantities like biggest vs. smallest, trouble with Roman Numerals, trouble remembering math facts (like times tables), hard time counting money or making change, difficulty estimating time, a hard time understanding the logic behind math, and difficulty doing mental math in their head. Another important thing that this website includes is that many people dismiss it as just being bad at math when in reality it’s actually biologically based. Scientists believe that Dyscalculia is caused by how a person’s brain is structured and how it functions or by genes. 

"You Got This" sign with iPhone next to it
Photo by Prateek Katyal from Pexels

Most people who have Dyscalculia will have to deal with it for the rest of their lives, as one can’t outgrow it, but there are ways to strengthen one’s math skills and create a level playing field for a student with Dyscalculia. For me, as an example, I have an accommodation where I am allowed to use my calculator for everything because I am not capable of doing mental math on the same level as someone without Dyscalculia. It’s never about being better than someone without Dyscalculia, it’s all about being on a level playing field. 

I hope that this article helped you understand a bit more about Dyscalculia and that it is actually very common and doesn’t mean that you are “dumb” or bad at math, a person with Dyscalculia is just structured differently than those without it. We are still capable and smart humans and just because Dyscalculia is a struggle, doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of anything we put our minds to.

– Ivie

Ivie Maher

CU Boulder '23

Ivie is a junior studying political science and business. She loves dogs, bunnies, and ice cream. She loves the outdoors and feels right at home here in the mountains. You can catch her cooking green bean casserole (her favorite), finding new music, or writing her newest article.
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