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What “I’m not a math person” means to me

By Savannah Treviño-Casias on

“I’m not a math person.”

Most of us have heard someone say this. Often it’s said as a joke or to get a good laugh. Other times, it’s said matter-of-factly.

One thing is for sure — the phrase is thrown around a lot. And most people probably don’t think much about what it might mean to someone like me.

I have dyscalculia , a learning difference that makes it harder for me to make sense of numbers and math concepts. Dyscalculia affects me both in and out of the classroom. 

For instance, when I’m in the checkout line buying groceries, I struggle to make change. I also have difficulty with telling time and estimating distance. Doing math in my head? Forget it. A calculator is my best friend.

Lots of people have this learning challenge. I’ve read that researchers now believe dyscalculia may be almost as common as dyslexia , the most well-known learning disability.

Because of my dyscalculia, I cringe when I hear someone say “I’m not a math person.” I guess it’s because I’ve struggled to be a “math person” my entire life. Or maybe because it feels like they’re making light of something that I take very seriously .

What makes it even tougher is that many people don’t even know there is a learning disability related to math.

One recent example: This summer, I went to an education conference in Washington, DC, to advocate. As the event started, I was sitting with other students at a table, preparing to do a group art activity.

While doing the activity, I started talking to another student next to me. He asked me if I had a learning disability, and I told him I had dyscalculia. He was puzzled and said he didn’t know what that was.

I was stunned because we were at an education conference on learning differences!

To his credit, he wanted to know more. And I don’t blame him. A lot of people don’t know about dyscalculia.

In fact, I went years without knowing how to describe why numbers just didn’t click for me. I wondered what was wrong and what I could do differently. Then I found out that there was an explanation, and it was a huge revelation.

Once I knew the source of my struggles, I embraced my dyscalculia. Accepting my learning challenges made me a better student because I started to understand how I learn best and what support I need. What helped me the most was my change in mindset and getting one-on-one attention from math teachers and tutors.

In some ways, maybe I’ve become the “math person” I always wanted to be. Sure, I have dyscalculia, but I know that with the right help, I can succeed in math. After all, I passed my high school statistics class!

So the next time someone says “I’m not a math person,” it might be the perfect time to ask, “Hey, have you ever heard of dyscalculia?” And if they say no, it might be the perfect time to explain.

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