Why dyscalculia and Irlen syndrome deserve the same exposure as dyslexia

Why dyscalculia and Irlen syndrome deserve the same exposure as dyslexia

By Chad_Welch |  Posted: January 11, 2016


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Nichola Hill-Williams

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IMAGINE dyslexia, but with numbers. That is what this Neath woman has to deal with every day.

Nichola Hill-Williams suffers from dyscalculia and Irlen syndrome, both of which, she says, deserve more exposure.

Such are the difficulties that come with the conditions that in the past they have inhibited her from getting jobs, affected her confidence, and even caused her reliability and trust to be called to account.

And this, she claims, is all because of lack of awareness, which is something she says needs to change to put a stop to inequality.

“People don’t understand just how much of life involves numbers,” said the 30-year-old.

“The most important thing is there’s the same level of awareness of dyscalculia and Irlen syndrome as there is of dyslexia.”

It took until university for her to be tested and diagnosed with the conditions, and she hopes that by raising awareness, others will not have to wait as long as she did.

Dyscalculia is a brain disorder that results in a severe difficulty in making arithmetical calculations.

This can be to the point of being unable to perform simple addition and subtraction, time-keeping, or dealing with money.

But Ms Hill-Williams also has Irlen syndrome, which although it manifests itself with visual disturbance, it is a delay with the brain’s processing ability, which she describes as almost like watching a flick book.

Personally the dyscalculia can ever affect Ms Hill-Williams’s ability to read the figures on cooking ingredients.

“I had negative experiences in school,” she said.

“I didn’t struggle in any other subjects, but there was a clear difference in maths.

“I went from the top set to the bottom — I was brought out of the class and told that I wasn’t doing well.

“I remember approaching one teacher and asking if he could not read my maths results out to the class, but he did it anyway.

“These are challenges that shouldn’t be happening.”

She aspired to become a teacher, having completed an English degree, but the numeracy requirements of teaching have prohibited her from achieving this.

The same goes for doctors, nurses, and other professions that rely on being able to use numbers, she added.

And with Irlen syndrome factored in, getting employed through the current recruitment channels is proving very difficult.

“Your eyes are fine, but it’s the way the brain understands what you are seeing,” she said.

“You get glare, head aches, major problems with concentration, eye strain, and extreme fatigue.

“No one knows about this — I didn’t even know that I had it — I thought everyone saw the same way that I do.”

The concentration needed for admin and filing jobs are therefore almost impossible for those with Irlen syndrome.

“They’ve both been trouble,” she said. “They’ve spoilt a lot of career opportunities for me, unfortunately.

“I have a degree, but half the time I can’t use it because I haven’t got the maths element.”

Ms Hill-Williams is calling for change in recruitment processes, to factor in these conditions, but also to get schools to test for them should a child be showing sign, as would happen with dyslexia or autism.

“They need to realise that these are serious problems,” she said.

“And employers need to review the way they recruit people with dyscalculia and Irlen syndrome.

“It’s a real shame because there’s lots of people that are intelligent, but just can’t get on with life because of the maths.

“And testing should begin the earlier the better.”

Read more: http://www.southwales-eveningpost.co.uk/dyscalculia-Irlen-syndrome-deserve-exposure/story-28505255-detail/story.html#ixzz3xAW0G0i2
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I first noticed there was something different about my brain in primary school. Dyscalculiawas not a recognised condition at the time, certainly not at any of the schools I attended. As soon as I was expected to detach visual aids from maths, it became a problem for me.  I could understand maths when I could see the things to count, even my fingers. Removing this, broke my fragile relationship with maths. No one understood why I could not grasp these supposedly simple concepts. My memory of this time was there were a lot of teachers who just didn’t understand why I could excel in certain subjects and fail stunningly in anything related to maths.

Is this an alien language or is it maths?

What is Dyscalculia?

There are lots of things my brain refuses to cooperate with me on. I have never been able to learnmy times tables. All that chanting out numerical sequences baffles me. Those patterns that you can see and recognise in times tables, well I can’t understand them nor retain that knowledge.

Never take it personally that I don’t remember a certain date or your phone number. My brain does not like numbers so it farts out large chunks of numerically based data, then scrambles the remaining few digits.  That’s why I write stuff down, my brain cannot be trusted with any information containing numbers whatsoever.

When I see a list of numbers, things sort of rearrange themselves in front of me. I find it hard to read and often have to use my hands to mask sections. Even then, I will still transpose numbers or miss some out.

I’m unable to do mental arithmetics. Yes, I do still have to use my fingers to count, I’m just better at disguising what I’m doing now. Anything too complex and my standard answers become “who cares?” or “do it yourself”. When asked to perform feats of maths, I get panicky, then the rushing sound starts. As my blood courses its way through my head, pounding each beat with emphasis, I start to feel sick. No maths can be done in this state.

I am listening, that’s why I am writing stuff down!

Other Ways Dyscalculia Affects Me

Then there’s the no sense of time, direction or spatial awareness aspects. Since numbers don’t make much sense to me, I easily lose track of time and am always late. If you leave me in a large paper bag, I will get lost. Making mental maps, reading maps, finding my way about is another set of tasks my brain misfires on. I walk into immovable objects a lot. Doors, door frames, the occasional wall and more can all bear witness to this. No those bruises are not dodgy, and yes I really did walk into a door. I forget how long my arms are, how wide my shoulders are and prang them constantly.

Numbers are a foreign language to me. I understand the basics but am unable to master the finer complexities of it. I will always sound like a non-native speaker in the land of maths. Permanently confused. You could try to teach me, but there’s no guarantee I will retain anything for any length of time. My uncle taught me how to play chess one evening, then was annoyed at the fact I had forgotten most of it a day later. Even complex sets of rules for a game can cloud my brain into non-compliance.

What my nightmares are made of. Do NOT leave me here.

Being Wired Differently

School was a nightmare for me. People bullied me badly because of my oddly wired brain. Let’s face it if I confounded adults I scared the crap out of other kids. From primary 5 onwards I was bullied incessantly. I had moved to yet another school, my accent was the object of ridicule along with the fact I didn’t live with my parents. My teacher was bullying me, I had no idea who to tell nor who would care. She was a friend of the aunt I lived with. At a private meeting between my aunt, the teacher and I, it was made clear to me, that this teacher was going to make my life hell, so I assumed my aunt had recommended this course of treatment. The teacher would pull me up in front of the class to make fun of me. I earned the nickname “Smart Thick Kid” from her and it stuck.

It was only when I got to high school and noticed a few people with dyslexia, that I joined up the dots for myself. They had diagnosed one of my friends with it. I eventually asked her what it felt like and how it affected her. As she explained her story to me, I realised that there was a similarity with my own issues. “That’s like me, but for maths!” I told my friend, so I started calling it maths dyslexia.

Like an elf at a Stormtrooper party. This pretty much sums up how school was for me.

Feeling Alone

Many years after I had left school, I was finally in a household with my own internet connection. One which I knew no one would give two hoots for my looking up learning difficulties.  Armed with a sense of freedom and a search engine, I looked up the term “dyslexia maths”.  There were pages of information, many detailing similar problems to my own.

I cried, like a baby when I realised I was not alone. My strange brain wirings were also other people’s problems. All those odd things that I couldn’t do but I didn’t even realise were connected – were. In black and white, I could see my wiring laid out. I no longer felt so alone. The mere knowledge there are others like me, soothed me greatly.

The key to knowledge lay in an internet search.

Leaving School

The bullying I received throughout my entire education did not end when I left school.  Even in a workplace environment, I have been told that I am “smart but thick”. Nonchalantly and to my face, as if this is somehow an acceptable form of conversation.