I Have A Problem With Numbers and Math: Possible Learning Disabilty?

I’ve never been diagnosed with a learning disabilty. I have a very high IQ. My reading comprehension is off-the-charts, and I have an excellent memory for words.

But I don’t understand numbers. I never have.

Simple addition is extremely taxing. Looking at numbers is like looking at something written in Greek: they make little sense to me. Multiplication and division are dark mysteries. It seems to take my mind a long time to recognise what the numbers represen. It’s difficult to explain, but, for example, I can see a number 9, and know what it means, but it seems to lose significance if I’m trying to combine it with another number. I know I’m not explaining this well, but I don’t really understand it myself. Sometimes, numbers jumble a bit in my mind. If I’m trying to add 12 and 15, I can’t “picture” the numbers in my head without them becoming mixed around.

This is, of course, very difficult for me in every day life. Just try to imagine standing in a store and trying to figure out what the price of an item would be with 20% off, and being near to tears in frustration of not being able to puzzle it out, or needing to figure out what 7% tax on an item will be and being unable to do it. Simply adding together the prices of two items is difficult enough for me.

I can easily memorize phone numbers, but have never mastered the multiplication tables. It’s not for lack of trying, either. During my school years, I practiced math for hours on end, recited the multiplcation tables over and over, and still made no progress whatsoever. I had special tutoring programs, educational tapes, and various learning aids which didn’t seem to help. Eventually, they gave up on me, and allowed me to use a calculator. I never would have graduated otherwise.

Is there such a thing as a learning disability in mathematics, but not affecting other areas of learning? Have you ever heard of anyone else with this problem?

I don’t know if it is possible to have dyscalcula (sp), a type of dyslexia of only numbers without haveint actaul dyslexia itself. That said, it sounds vaguely like that. Sorry to not be of more help.

Many people who suffer from a learning disability are bright in one or more areas, and need help in another. It’s quite possible that you have a learning disability related to math without it affecting your other abilities. IANAProfessional, but it sounds like you might benefit from some help beyond tutoring. Teachers who are trained in special education have techniques especially to help those who learn differently.

Lissa I would imagine the majority of people would have trouble figuring out how much something would be with %20 off.

I have an unofficial IQ that is higher than average, and yet I am completely hopeless at maths. I have tricks. Take your 15 + 12. I would have to do 5 + 2 (easy as it involves mental counting ‘5’, ‘6’, ‘7’) then 10 + 10 (easy as they are ‘round’ numbers, and in a way it is just a case of incrementing the first number by 1) and then add the two.

I believe mathematical ability is like musical ability - some have it, a lot don’t.

Lissa, snap
I have 2 degrees, but was kicked out maths class aged 11 - I was regarded as unteachable.
Just recently, I’ve decided to start again after surviving, to my immense surprise, the statistics element of my psych degree.
I suspect that there is a specific learning difficulty in maths - or at least in calculation. From what you say, your difficulty, like mine, is in calculation. At the age of 6, I found the simplest calculation impossible, so I never got to first base with maths. I still cannot calculate, but calculators now do this for us, so you can concentrate on the actual problem. I think most mathematicians would point out that there is a lot more to maths than calculation.
I wonder if the calculation difficulty isn’t a working memory fault (‘working memory’ (excuse me if you already know this) involves retrieving info from long term memory plus new info, and manipulating it. What happens when I try to manipulate figures in my mind is that the mental image of the figures decays before I can deal with them. Even on paper I tend to lose track of what I’m doing in terms of calculation, even though I know where I’m trying to get to. Why this should happens with numbers and not other types of info in working memory, I don’t know.
I’ve heard some references to ‘dyscalculia’, but as yet it doesn’t seem to get the same recognition as dyslexia. The existence of calculating prodigies, and of autistic savants, suggests that the ability to calculate is a distinct mental module, since these people can be intellectually limited yet able to perform extraordinary calculations. This also suggests that calculating ability is not the same as mathematical talent. Anyway, I’m going to give maths another chance!

I stink at math and numbers. It helps that I am a server. I am able to do the % thing fairly easy. Getting ready to tell you how stupid I was at it when I was a kid. When a bill at the store would come to say \$10.01. I would give her 11.00. She would ask don’t you have a penny? No. Well when she would give the .99 back I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t give her a penny out of the change she just gave me and get my dollar back. D-U-H. It was down hill from there. I flunked algebra in the 8th grade and ended up taking “business math” as a credit to graduate in high school. Since then when I took some college courses in math, I started out at the bottom and had to learn my way from there. I understood algebra then and was able to pass. I think partly, because I wanted to learn then or maybe it was because I was footing the bill and didn’t want to flunk.

Lissa, it does sound like you may save some kind of impairment regarding numbers. I am not any kind of professional, and don’t know who you should consult, but your problems, as you describe them, seem to go beyond normal math anxiety.

As a former (and hopefully future) math teacher, I’ve seen my share of people who “don’t get” math and “just can’t do it”. And I recognize that most, I think, of the problem, is that from what I’ve seen in my math education classes, it’s very very easy to be a crappy math teacher. Many of my colleagues would have me shuddering at the thought that some day they would be teaching kids math - or trying to. It also doesn’t help that current educational fads are aimed more at helping kids feel good about not knowing math than about actually teaching it.

There are people who have a sort of dyscalcula, and it sounds like you may be one of them. It sounds like your problems go beyond not understanding the methods and ideas to having trouble with the basic concepts of numbers, as a person with dyslexia does with letters. I applaud that you see this as a problem that you may need to work on, and hope you are able to overcome it.

Too often I hear people who are proud that they don’t know math. I’m not talking about advanced calculus or group theory or topology, but people who seem to take pride in the fact that they can’t do simple algebra. I never hear anyone gleefully announce that they can’t read, despise doing so, and avoid it whenever possible, but I am constantly seeing people happily stand up and declare that they can’t do math and hate it.

It’s worse that companies are aware of this and take advantage of it. I’ve often seen “sales” or “deals” that seem to be counting on the customer to not be able (or willing) to ‘do the math’. Car dealerships are notorious about this. How many people actually see whether the cash back or reduced financing is the better deal, even though it only takes a few minutes and a pocket calculator?

It’s no secret that I love math. I think it’s fun. A well-done proof has, to me, an elegance that a well-done poem has. I do not believe that math is useless. I am old-fashioned enough to think that algebra - when taught correctly - not only gives you calculation skills, but also skills in problem solving, logical thinking, and adaptive thinking. I’ve never understood why we appreciate the secondary aspects of learning, say, volleyball (teamwork, learning rules, sportsmanship, exercise), but with math, if we can’t show a direct one-to-one correlation with the ‘real world’ than we shouldn’t be teaching it.

I’m sorry, I went off on a rant there. What I’m trying to say, Lissa, is that I think you should look into it and see if there’s anything you can do to correct it. Don’t live with part of your brain happily turned off. You don’t have to become a statistician or anything, but don’t deny yourself an understanding of such a basic and potentially fascinating thing. There really are benefits. Don’t be swayed not to do anything about your problem by people who will gladly tell you how bad they are at math, how useless it is, and how much it sucks. If your disabilty were reading-related, people would be urging you to get some help and would be sharing stories of how they overcame similar problems. Don’t be talked into not overcoming a problem you can do something about. Good luck!

I think some people are just wired slightly differently from the majority. You mention not being able to put the numbers together in your head–the same thing happens to me with letters. Like you, I’ve never been diagnosed with a learning disability, I have a high IQ, excellent memory, etc. Unlike you, I’m great with numbers, but if you were to spell a word of maybe five or more letters out loud to me, I would not be able to tell you what that word is. Absolutely cannot do it. I have no idea why, but it’s just a weird mental block that’s always been with me. I can read and write perfectly well (aside from the occasional typo, misspelling or lapse in grammar or syntax), but I can’t visualize strings of letters. I’ve learned to live with it. It’s just the way it is.

This problem has been painfully embarassing for me. I appreciate all of your responses, because in the past, I have been accused of “not trying hard enough,” and at one point, was told by a teacher that I was flat-out stupid.

My husband is amazing when it comes to math. He can multiply and divide long numbers in his head almost instantly. On occasion, he has tired to help me to learn to work out problems, but since my trouble stems from being unable to master the basics, it never helps.

What sort of help is available? Whom should I contact? Are there any online “support groups” which might be able to lead me in the right direction? If dyscalcula isn’t much recognized, does that mean there is no sort of an association where I could find more information?

Actually, I’ve met a person like this. I was working in a convenience mart, and a customer kept asking me the prices and brand names of the items. Finally, I said that the signs were right in front of him, and that’s when he revealed he couldn’t read. The look on my face must have said quite a lot, because he snorted and said “Why bother? If anything needs reading, there’s someone who can read it to me.” He said that he had no reason to know how to read, that there was nothing in books worth bothering with, anyway. He was very proud of his illetracy, and gave a lengthy speech about people who waste their time with the written word, and how it took up valuable “brain space” which could be put to better use.

i have trouble with “simple” math. i’m very thankful for calculators. if the percent is anything other than 50 % or 25% forget it. wait staff must love getting me at their table 'cause i tip around 25% because 15% is beyond my math. so if the bill is 12 dollars, half of 12 is 6 half of 6 is 3 the tip must be around 3 dollars. if the bill is an odd number staff will make out rather well.

strangely, i did well with geometry and algebra.