I always say I’m the queen of typos, but lately, I’ve been noticing the problem isn’t typos. Entire words and pieces of words go missing while extraneous words and word fragments that should vanish hang around. Word bombs lurking in my text.

I’ve always had a problem with numbers. I was bad at math but since I have a high IQ, the assumption was I didn’t try hard enough. I can’t remember how many report cards I got saying I wasn’t making an effort. Underachiever is a label that has haunted me.

To a degree it was true. I didn’t have to try particularly hard at some stuff. I read very well. I was a natural researcher and historian. I always talked a blue streak. I wrote stories. I was 10 when I learned touch typing. I type quickly, but the number of mistakes I make can equal the number of words on the page. Inaccurate doesn’t begin to describe it.

I did well things that came naturally. Everything else didn’t come at all. It didn’t matter how hard I tried. Physics was meaningless. Trig was random numbers. If I could remember what I was supposed to do with numbers, the odds were no better than 50-50 I’d come up with the right answer. We did not have calculators, but even if we had, it wouldn’t have guaranteed I’d get the right answer. I also can’t key numbers with any accuracy.

Today, when I commented on a friend’s blog, in a fewer than 10-word sentence, I omitted one word and mis-wrote another. I thought the missing word, but failed to type it. Missing in action. By the time I saw the problems, it was too late to correct them. I’ve been doing that a lot and I finally started searching to see if there was a name for the problem, other than creeping senility.

Dyscalculia. A learning disability with which both my son and granddaughter have been diagnosed.

How did I miss this? How come I never connected the missing dots? I have had all these symptoms for my entire life. It never crossed my mind, or anyone else’s, that there might be an actual problem. Lately it’s gotten worse and I attributed it to getting older and more forgetful. But age tends to exaggerate symptoms of this type. It’s both comforting and frustrating to realize I’ve spent my life successfully functioning despite the problem. As have millions of people because the world doesn’t adjust to your problems. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got because … well … what choice do you have?

When I was growing up, kids with dyslexia and/or dyscalculia were assumed to be stupid, lazy or both, I’ve been called many things, but never stupid. So I was told loudly and often I was lazy. Eventually I came to believe it. It never occurred to anyone that maybe I really couldn’t make sense of numbers. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They didn’t like me. Sometimes, it felt personal.

Because I was good with words and concepts, I wrote very well. I didn’t spell very well, but I learned to look things up and if I wasn’t sure how to spell a word, I used a different word. I rewrote whole pages to avoid having to use a word I couldn’t spell. Sometimes, I still do. I don’t trust the spell checker to know what I meant.

Lately, I find my finger typing words that start with the same letter as the word I meant to write, but which are otherwise entirely different. When eventually I see the error, I’m totally baffled how my brain can be thinking one thing and my fingers typing something entirely different

A short post … like this one … can take me hours to proofread and when I’m done, there will still be wrong words, missing words, missing pieces of words, words in the wrong order or wrong form (e.g. gerund instead of past tense). I just don’t see the errors.

If you have a child in school who is doing poorly but is bright and should be doing better, before you assume that he or she needs only to work harder, take a look at dyscalculia and dyslexia websites. They have diagnostic tools for all ages and stages. Not every child or adult has every symptom, nor are all symptoms present at all times. Intermittent memory loss is common. You may know how to solve an equation today, but not recall how to do it tomorrow. Gone from your memory without a trace.

Check out: The Dyscalculia Forum and Meanwhile, here’s some basic stuff to help you decide if you want to search further.

From The Dyscalculia Forum:

The Basic Facts

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in mathematics. Dyscalculia is a word you use to describe when people have significant problems with numbers – but still have a normal or above normal IQ. It seems that no dyscalculic has problems with math alone, but also struggle with problems being able to learn to tell time, left/right orientation, rules in games and much more. See the list of symptoms. Also, there are more types of dyscalculia, and all types demand specific learning methods aimed at the specific problem.

How Common Is Dyscalculia?

According to UK studies done by Gross-Tsur, Manor and Shalev in 1996, 6.5% are dyscalculic. According to studies done by Lewis, Hitch and Walker in 1994, 1.3% are dyscalculic while 2.3% are dyscalculic AND dyslexic – that means that according to this study 3.6% of the World’s population are dyscalculic.

That gives a total of between 3.6 and 6.5% of the World’s population. And again: That means, according to these two studies, that between 216.000.000 (two hundred and sixteen million) and 390.000.000 (three hundred and ninety million) people are dyscalculic – if we say that there are 600.000.000.000 (six billion) people in the world. No international study has been done on how common it is.

Symptoms In Brief 

Normal or accelerated language acquisition: verbal, reading, writing. Poetic ability. Good visual memory for the printed word. Good in areas of science until higher math is required and creative arts.

Mistaken recollection of names. Poor name/face retrieval. Substitute names beginning with same letter.

Difficulty with the abstract concepts of time and direction. Inability to recall schedules, and sequences of past or future events. Unable to keep track of time. May be chronically late.
Inconsistent results in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Poor mental math ability. Poor with money and credit. Cannot do financial planning or budgeting.

When writing, reading and recalling numbers, these common mistakes are made: number additions, substitutions, transpositions, omissions, and reversals.

Inability to grasp/remember math concepts, rules, formulas, sequence, basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. Poor long-term concept mastery. May be able to do math one day, but draw a blank the next..

May be unable to comprehend or “picture” mechanical processes. Lack “big picture/ whole picture” thinking.
Poor memory for the “layout” of things. Gets lost or disoriented easily. May have a poor sense of direction, lose things often, and seem absent-minded.

May have difficulty grasping concepts of formal music education. Difficulty sight-reading music, learning fingering to play an instrument, etc.

May have poor athletic coördination, difficulty keeping up with rapidly changing physical directions as in aerobic, dance, and exercise classes. Difficulty remembering dance step sequences.

Difficulty keeping score or remembering how to keep score in games, like bowling, etc. Often loses track of whose turn it is during games. Limited strategic ability.

8 thoughts on “IT DOESN’T ADD UP …

  1. Hey! That’s me! Remember how we squeaked through The New College’s funky-odd required Math course, you know, the one so carefully assembled for people like us? I recall two highlights: all of us sitting on a hallway floor, shaking sealed boxes containing something we were to identify by sound alone (good God, why???) and passing the course only because I wrote a pretty good paper on Jonathan Swift’s treatment of mathematics in Gulliver’s Travels. It was a OK paper, but I should never have passed that course, the passing of which relieved me from ever having to take another math course, ever. (Likewise, I had passed Chemistry in high school with a “circled 65,” meaning that I’d scored a 63, which would normally have been a failing grade, but was given a merciful 2-point gift providing I never darken the door of a chem classroom again. (“You tried. We like you. Now go away.”) Of course I spent the next near-30 years editing sci/tech magazines…even as E-i-C for 10 years. At times I felt like an utter fraud, but ultimately realized that I could make magazines in my sleep, and as long as there were staff who could do the numbers, it was OK. I had other gifts that my mathematically talented colleagues and authors often did not possess.

    Interesting that you knew and were good at music theory. How can I forget the time you sat up with me, all night, cramming music theory into my head so I could pass the Music final? I understand that math and music are processed in the same part of the brain, so those who can do math can often do music, too, and vice-versa. Sometimes I wonder if a different kind of teaching in our early years might have helped us overcome or math issues. Having a 6th-grade math teacher who was banging one of my classmates didn’t help a whole lot, either….


    • This stuff is weirdly patchy. I was okay with music because I understood what was going on, but math was meaningless because it was without a context for me. Also, what things work or don’t work are very variable between individuals. Garry can’t do anything numerical, is lost all the time and has coordination issues, but he can do six things at a time in the field with guns going off and keep track of all of them. Kaity is a fine gymnast and karate kid too, but can’t do simple addition and can’t remember anything at all about what she learned in math two minutes after learning it. I can handle music theory, am terrible with any language but English, can do arithmetic in my head, but not on paper and have no ability to visualise spacial relationships … and I’m lost all the time. How stuff manifests is very quirky.

      On Thu, Apr 18, 2013 at 12:10 PM, SERENDIPITY


  2. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I hate labels. New ones are being invented on a daily basis. These days “experts” are coming up with fancy, hard to pronounce, clinical names. There are more syndromes than you can shake a stick at.

    I grew up being labeled by doctors, clergy and teachers. My German born parents were faithful to attend all parent/teacher meeting which were one on one affairs in the Catholic schools I attended. I was labeled and an underachiever, that I didn’t try hard enough. Keep in mind I was a straight “A” student my whole life. How do you achieve a score higher than an “A”? When my parents returned from parent/teacher meetings I was summarily punished for not trying hard enough. I hated parent/teacher meetings.


    • I was always an ‘underachiever’ to the point that after a while, I really didn’t try. There was no point in bothering. I always did well in my good subjects and barely got by in math and some sciences (phyics, chemistry). I wouldn’t have minded the label if it had cut me a little slack. Knowing what the problem is doesn’t make it go away, either. You still have to do the same stuff.


    • Thanks. This stuff runs in families. The most difficult thing is knowing about it doesn’t fix it. Nothing fixes it, but maybe knowing about it can help someone figure out new ways of approaching old problems.


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