You may never have seen Mary Tyler Moore’s groundbreaking sitcom from the 1970s, the Mary Tyler Moore Show. But you’ve no doubt seen the famous image of her character, a single professional woman “making it” on her own, jubilantly tossing her hat in the air.
Moore has certainly made it on her own—earning six Emmy awards during an acting career that has spanned decades. But along with having great success, this American icon has faced lifelong challenges that have impacted her personally and professionally.
It wasn’t until she was in her 50s that Moore discovered the cause of those challenges: dyscalculia. Learn how math issues factored into both her accomplishments and her struggles.
Trouble at School, Refuge in a Dance Studio
As a child, Moore had a tough time keeping up in class. And like many kids with learning and thinking differences she was bullied because of it. “Walking home became a nightmare of catcalls—‘Hi, dummy,’ ‘Hey, Miss Stupid,’” she recounts in After All, the first of her two autobiographies.
Her family moved to California from New York when Moore was in elementary school. At her new Catholic school, she was held back a grade. “I still was barely scraping by in school, and still without friends,” she recalls. “There was little in my life which I did well.”
But then Moore discovered a dance school in her new neighborhood. She soon developed a passion for dancing that took the sting away from her school and social woes.
“Dancing became the center of my life. While others won holy cards at school for excellence in scholarship, I was adding another second or two of balance to my arabesque,” Moore writes.
As her skills grew, so did her confidence. Her schoolwork improved, too. There was another benefit, as well: Moore no longer felt lonely. “As I learned the dance steps and began to excel … the girls at the studio started paying attention to me.”
Paving Her Own Path
When she was a junior in high school, Moore landed a dream summer job that ultimately changed her life. She worked in the mail room at a local television studio.
The experience enthralled her. Within two years, she took a job as a dancing elf in a recurring TV commercial. From there, she appeared as a dancer and then actress on several shows. She landed a role on The Dick Van Dyke Show, for which she won the first of six Emmy Awards.
For six years, she starred in the Mary Tyler Moore Show. The acclaimed program was one of the first to focus on an independent working woman. Afterward, she had a successful acting career appearing on other shows and in films.
“Looking back on it, I realize that I have always chosen work that challenges me, because if I don’t go in to work a little scared, I don’t have any interest in it,” Moore writes.
Uncovering an Important Truth
In her 50s, Moore wondered what type of work to take on next. She decided to talk to a psychologist who specialized in “testing for hidden talents, and making career evaluations,” she writes.
After four days of testing, Moore learned she had dyscalculia. The results came as a surprise—and a relief. The diagnosis answered so many questions she had as a child.
“If back then they knew what it was, they wouldn’t have said to me, ‘You’re a bad girl,’ or ‘a stupid girl.’ They would have given me alternative methods for learning math, and I might have gone to college and grown up with a different expectation,” Moore has said.
But the path she did pursue—driven by her talent, passion and perseverance—led her to enduring success as a performer.
Learn what steps to take if you think your child might have dyscalculia. Read about what to do next if you recently found out your child has dyscalculia. And explore more celebrity success stories you can share with your child.
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About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former Community Manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.