Basic addition is my strongest area when it comes to math. Give me equations like 87+29=__, and yes I can give you the correct answer without googling how to solve it. I'll still pull up a calculator app but at least I understand the process. It’s 116 for those of you who doubted my mathematical abilities.
So why is it that things like algebra and long division turn the light switch of smartness in my brain off? It's definitely not because I’m daydreaming about attending Hogwarts, or going home to eat a bag of chips, both totally realistic goals, no, of course not. It’s because dyslexia and confusion are my best friends when it comes to the wonderful world of math. I made it through math classes during elementary and middle school, even passing the high school ones, and yet I still cannot escape it. Even hearing the phrase “solve this equation” makes me feel haunted by the quadratic formula looming over my left shoulder.
My freshman year of college I took a “basic math course” which was mentally and emotionally challenging. As someone who already doesn’t do well with test taking, you can see how having your grade determined by how many questions you can correctly answer during one sitting, surrounded by people who seem to understand the information because it is “remedial” could be problematic. In other words, a truly stress-free and encouraging environment.
I went to tutoring and worked on extra practice problems but it still was not clicking. Spending hours pouring over how someone could see one example worked out during lecture and suddenly solve a whole sheet of problems by the end of class, while I worked away through the weekend, left me perplexed and hungry. Not for knowledge, just for ice cream.
Despite my struggle, I passed this first class. Yes, it was one of many and because I passed, that apparently meant I was ready for the next level. Here’s a surprise, I wasn’t. But, my math quest continued. It was a situation where from my perspective I was putting in the work and not seeing anything in return. Math continued to be extremely frustrating. Ending up having to retake a class meant falling behind and trying to further figure out how to get the extra help I needed.
With the help of my family and teacher, I discovered that because of my dyslexia, I was switching the order of numbers but seeing otherwise. For example, when I got the answer 24, I would write 42, not seeing any difference. So I was working out the problem correctly, just writing the reverse right answer. Confusing? Yes. I was able to get some colored, plastic overlays that helped my eyes distinguish the right order of the numbers on the white paper and things started to look up.
Now I find myself sitting in my Astronomy Lab period every Monday trying to remember math related things I learned two years ago that I probably should have remembered. So I’m still stuck with math, but at least I have friends who help me prove my mathematical knowledge beyond an eighth grade level. You might think that this story has a happy ending, but as I write this, I am remembering that I need to add a math class to my schedule for next semester. Wish me luck!