#MyDyscalculiaStory - Catherine Starkey
Monday 13 March 2023
I was diagnosed with Dyscalculia
age 21, while studying for my post-graduate qualification. I had wanted to seek
diagnosis for a long time since finding out about Dyscalculia as a teenager,
and when I discovered I could be assessed through the University's support
services I didn't hesitate.
Dyscalculia had always been very obvious during my childhood and teenage years. I struggled consistently with maths at school and yet I excelled in most other subjects, which led to much confusion and frustration from my family and teachers. I had a lot of trouble with my working memory and this impacted things like time management, assessments and exams which again caused confusion as I was bright but couldn't seem to retain information as easily as my peers.
In the early 90's Dyscalculia was less known and sadly no one picked it up. I was lucky to have a supportive family who got me through two GCSE re-sits with tutors and a lot of patience. I finally managed to get a grade D, but on my other merits I was allowed into university.
It is upsetting to think that if it had be noticed, I may have had the right adjustments at school and been able to learn mathematics in a way that I could understand. This may have changed my experiences and even my course in education. I was good at the Sciences but I struggled at Physics, which blocked me pursuing my passions in Biology and the medical field. I was glad though to be able to pursue my love for child development and for literature.
Dyscalculia affects more than just math.
I'm very frank when it comes to sharing my journey with Dyscalculia. It has been, and is, extremely tough and life-impacting. Like many I have developed anxiety around maths and number due to poor early experiences, which has lasted into adulthood.
I still can't tell the time without difficulty, and I don't have a natural sense of time. I struggle to manage my own finances without help. Dyscalculia reaches much further than just mathematics too. For me, working memory is a major factor in all areas, I find it very difficult to process and hold on to verbal information while it's being said to me. I need extra processing time. I often find it hard to see patterns in general life that are obvious to others, or I miss the nuances of how things are connected.
"My psychological testing showed
that I have an above average IQ, in the top 1% of the population. However, in
mathematics and number I have the ability of around a 5-year-old!"
While being frank about it, I am also very proud of what my disability has gifted me.
I love reading and writing so academically I've always been strong, which allowed me to gain a first-class degree and graduate highest in my class. I have a good eye for detail, I notice things that most don't. I am a 'visual' and 'read-write' learner, so I've found I can process and use information very quickly if I write it down - making me a very fast worker!
I consider myself very "right brained" so I'm creative and imaginative, which has served me well in a career in education. I think with my heart not my head, which I consider a bonus. Overall, Dyscalculia makes me 'me', my strengths and weaknesses coexist with each other. It's my goal to be aware, accepting, and honest about both.
“Acceptance and understanding are the key factors in support”
After diagnosis I had support from my university during my studies. I re-sat maths there as a Level 2 qualification, alongside my postgraduate. It was incredibly hard work, and I was delighted to finally pass with a grade C. I wrote about my Dyscalculia in my final assessments. I also sought out a private tutor who specialised in Dyscalculia, her methods were alternative, and she gave me some really useful approaches which I still use to this day.
It showed me that with the right support, an understanding of mathematics was possible for me. In recent years I've been more open about Dyscalculia in the workplace, and I've received some good support. It's taken me some time to build up this confidence, there have many years of masking out of fear of being labelled.
My husband is a big part of my support system, he helps me navigate the parts of life that I find most challenging! My family and friends are understanding, but many don't know. I don't tend to lead with it, which is part of my anxiety, I guess. For those that know, sometimes it's easy to forget I carry Dyscalculia with me all the time. I've seen people become confused or frustrated with me and that's hard. I would say that acceptance and understanding are the key factors in support. In the past I've been told I'm using Dyscalculia as an "excuse". For anyone who's supporting someone with Dyscalculia, try to lead with compassion and not assumption. I try surround myself with people who give me support without judgement.
Find strategies and tools that can help you
Finding a method of saving my own money has been a major turning point. I use an app that automatically calculates and saves a percentage of your salary. You can monitor and set goals. It's been a real game changer for me because I don't have a natural sense of the value of money, or when and how much to save. It has felt really good to feel more in control and comfortable with something that's usually very alien to me. Finding these little tools that help are great and I would recommend them to anyone with Dyscalculia.
My advice for someone who has recently been diagnosed with dyslexia:
To someone recently diagnosed with Dyscalculia, I would first and foremost say well done. The hardest part is over. There's a lot of self-reflection, self-acceptance and discovery ahead and this is something to be embraced and enjoyed. Although daunting, it's a road worth sticking to and a journey worth taking. Share it with those close to you. Give yourself time and be kind to yourself along the way. Be proud of who you are.
I would like the world to know…
Society is coming along in its awareness and understanding of Dyscalculia. Its been great to see more awareness in education. The earlier it is noticed, the more impactful the support. If I could tell the world one thing it would be that those with Dyscalculia are not unintelligent. Struggling with mathematics and similar concepts is not a marker for "stupidity", just as being good at maths does not necessarily equal some kind of greater intelligence. There are multiple, infinite forms of intelligence. All minds are different, there's no better kind of brain than another.