Embracing my dyscalculia made me a better student

As I walked into the Disability Resource Center at Arizona State University, I thought about everything I ’d gone through to get there — the hours of tutoring, relearning years of math, and coming to terms with my learning differences.

The building was nearly silent because it was summer and school was out of session.

After checking in, I waited to be called into my advisor’s office. I looked around. There were tutoring sign-up sheets, inspirational posters, pamphlets, and flyers stacked and waiting to be taken.

It felt surreal sitting there, waiting to meet with my advisor. Meeting with her would help me get the help I needed once I started college. I thought back seven years ago to a time when I wasn’t too keen on getting help.

I was 12 and in the sixth grade.

It was the day I had been nervously anticipating for weeks: the day I was to be tested for special education services. I had hoped with every bone in my body that I wouldn’t need help. I didn’t want to be “special ed.”

To me, getting special education would have meant I was dumb, incapable — that there was no hope for me. At the time, I felt like my trouble with math wasn’t a big deal. I had struggled with math ever since kindergarten and my acceptance of failure had become second nature.

When the evaluation results came back I was sitting with my mom — a teacher — and I counted my breaths: One. Two. Three.

Then my school’s special education teacher said the words that would change my life:

“She will need to receive services; she has a lot of challenges with math.”

I looked at my mom and saw a sense of relief on her face. It would take me many years to understand why she felt that way.

For the rest of middle school, I struggled to catch up on the years of math I hadn’t learned. All the while my self-esteem dropped lower and lower, and I kept telling myself I didn’t need help. But when high school started, I knew I had to change.

I was tired of hating math. I was tired of thinking I was inadequate. Everyone wanted to help me succeed — my mom, my teachers, and my friends. The only person left was myself.

I had to see my dyscalculia for what it was — something that made me different, but not dumb or less than. Math was hard for me, but it wasn’t impossible. There was nothing wrong with getting extra help. 

Every day, I told myself it was OK that I learned at a different pace and in a different way than the other students. I worked my hardest to understand math. And I started to believe in myself.

High school brought a lot of challenges, both personal and academic. But I learned to accept my dyscalculia; it has become a part of me and it will always be a part of my life.

Years later, as I sat waiting to meet with my college disability advisor, I felt a sense of pride.

I had made it through high school. I had become a positive and confident person.

With a smile on my face, I walked into my advisor’s office. We discussed the accommodations and support I needed in college. I felt a huge sense of relief — it was then that I understood what my mom had felt that day when I was evaluated for special education.

In the future, I know I’ll have to work smarter and harder than others because of my learning difference. But I also know that I will continue to embrace my dyscalculia as an important part of who I am.


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