Maybe dyscalculia, maybe badly wired neurons
April 22, 2008 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have experience with self-treatment as an adult with dyscalculia? I think I may have it, and that I've had it all my life. Whether or not that's so, are there any tricks to "rewiring" yourself?

Like many bookish types, I could never handle math. I wanted to like it, since it made so much sense, but the numbers just never would do what the teacher could make them do. The teachers went on about how smart I was, how well I could do if I really wanted to, and how I "just wasn't trying." Eventually, they were right about that.

Now I realize that I have an awful problem with switching numbers around. Tell me to remember that a house is at 9834 Green Street; I will say to myself, "Right -- 9843 Green Street." This must be why the concepts of math seemed so clear to me, but my grades were terrible. Also, I have difficulty visualizing numerals that a person is reciting, while their words instantly appear in my head.

So I check, and check, and do my very best to compensate for myself. You can imagine the kind of trouble this issue would allow a person to get into. Is proofreading all I can do? It's beginning to embarrass me deeply and personally. Have any of you addressed this issue as an adult?
posted by anonymous to Education (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting, I have this problem too but I didn't realize there was a term for it. I still mix up my own address and I've lived here for about 1.5 years :)

I've found that tracing numbers on my hand or on the wall with my other hand helps, also reciting the number out-loud helps as well; I often repeat back numbers when people say them to me, for example. This is because I am a good visual and auditory learner, so I take advantage of it. No one has ever said something to me about it being strange.

I also mistake right and left often, so I frequently make an L shape with my thumb and forefinger to remember which one is left (the one that makes the "L"). I'm a musician, and I've met other musicians with this problem as well.

You need to get over the idea that it's crazy, unusual, and embarrassing. Don't think of it as rewiring, think of it as taking advantage of what you're good at to help you out in areas that you aren't. It makes doing taxes a bitch, but that's what friends are for; you can always ask for help. No one is perfect.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 5:42 PM on April 22, 2008

My younger brother, who's brilliant, has been diagnosed with this as well. I believe they called it numerical dyslexia at the time, though. If I were you, I'd definitely give Phalene's writing-out-the-numbers bit a try. I for one don't remember phone numbers and so on as lists of numbers, I remember them by the rhythm and cadence of the words.

By the way, if you actually have an interest in formal math you should realize that this probably won't slow you down much. Once you get into calculus (and even before that, if it's taught correctly), you never see numbers, it's all about the shapes of equations and greek letters, which might be easier for you. I'm not sure where exactly your difficulty lies and how it would affect broader mathematical skills, but I imagine that if you're interested in learning algebra and calculus and so on you shouldn't let it stop you, you might just have to do it slightly differently and more patiently than other people.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:34 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have this problem too, and finally decided I had dyscalculia when I first learned of it several years ago. Struggled through math classes; have a hard time memorizing dates, phone numbers, etc.; also horrible at directions and space perception. (Yet I aced geometry - it was all shapes!)

I think what helps me with numbers is imagining the shape of each digit. Somehow I can picture them in my head, which helps with simple math. Another thing that helped me hugely was working for several years as a cashier, including two years in a supermarket where things were fast-paced and people paid with various amounts of change in order to get fewer coins in their change, etc. That really helped me learn to do arithmetic quickly. Also, we had four-digit codes to memorize to ring up produce, and by associating the numbers with the produce and coming up with little devices (like, tomatoes are 4087 and my brother likes tomatoes and he was born in '87), I somehow became the person that other people turned to when they needed to know a number quickly.

As for directions and space perception, I'm still hopeless. I can barely read a map or figure out where I am on a map. The only thing that's helped me there is looking up directions ahead of time, and if possible, doing a "test run" to a new location.
posted by LolaGeek at 6:50 PM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can't say whether you're suffering from a learning disability or a long history of bad math teachers.

Sheila Tobias's books will help you, either way.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 9:41 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hunh, wow, I didn't know there is a name for this, but as an adult who still resorts to counting on my fingers...

I am constantly transposing addresses and can never remember numerical passwords or phone numbers. I carry around a small notebook and write everything numerical down. If someone gives me their phone number, I put it in my cell phone immediately. Like a previous poster, working in a job where I handled money helped too because I memorized different combinations of dollars and change combinations. I rely heavily on my computer and cell phone calculators.

I also get my north, east, south, west confused pretty regularly and tend to get lost easily while driving. I mapquest the heck out of everything, keep a bunch of maps in my car and have really good cell phone coverage.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:48 PM on April 22, 2008

I think there was some kind of big study a few years back which found that math (in the US at least) is usually taught badly, and ends up mostly being accessible to grinds and those with fast in-brain calculators, but not normal mathematically-talented learners. I did really badly in math class and complicated math has ended up playing a pretty big role in my adult working life, and enjoyably so. So I tend to gravitate to the idea that for a lot of self-identified math failures, it was probably mis-taught and step one is to get over that feeling of mathematical loserdom and get back to that original idea you had about yourself that this was something that makes sense and that you would be good at. I don't blame math teachers for this specifically, who were, after all, taught how to teach. It seems to be a systemic problem which will probably need a systemic solution.

The big turning point which got me back to my original "math is fun" feeling was learning to program, followed by art-related projects like making digital signal processors for manipulating sound, and filters for video. There is math a-plenty but you are using it to make cool stuff, not just practicing it in an abstracted form. You get these problems like "how on earth will I transform "blah" into "blah" so that it's always "blah" and once you research it, it turns out to be the practical application of one of those mathematical principles that seemed like a completely random and isolated fact in 8th grade, and you get it; they are like arrows in your quiver. I think that the strangest thing about math learning is that it's like a 10-year-long rehearsal for something where most people never make it to the actual performance, which would be solving real-world problems of interest to them using mathematics.

To your specific question: I also transpose numbers in long strings if they enter my brain via visual media and then I leave them there as a visual memory. I have a much better aural memory than visual, so if I want to remember a number without any transposition, I have to say it out loud and let it get back into my brain via the ears. People who work next to me are very tolerant about the whispered numbers and I appreciate it.

There are multiple kinds of memory (kinetic, aural, etc) and most people have a mix with higher performance in one type. It might benefit you to look into what your "best" kind of memory is and find a way to convert the numbers into it to see if it is misremembering and not miswiring.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 1:44 AM on April 23, 2008 [6 favorites]

« Older Can I salvage the speakers from this POS Sony...   |   VOIP Recommendations? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.