Blog:  The Inside Track

7 Surprising Ways Dyscalculia Affects Me as a Young Adult

The Inside Track blog post by Savannah Treviño Casias
Jul 10, 2017

Young woman paying at a cash register

Since I was a small child, I’ve struggled with math in school. Eventually, I found out I have dyscalculia, a math learning disability.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that dyscalculia affects me in many ways, not just with math and not just in school. At first, it was frustrating and hard to accept the impact of dyscalculia on my everyday life. But along the way, I’ve learned strategies and tricks that make living with this learning issue a little easier.

Here are surprising ways dyscalculia affects me in everyday life as a young adult, and how I manage the challenges.

1. Making change when shopping is nerve-racking.

I love shopping, but when I look in my purse to make change, I freeze at the sight of quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies. I try to do mental math and match up the amount to the coins I have, and then try to figure out how much I owe. But with impatient customers behind me in line, I get overwhelmed with anxiety.

These days, my solution is to use my debit card, which always has exact change. I sometimes practice counting change at home to challenge myself. But unless there’s no one behind me at the register, I stay away from counting coins.

2. I rarely know what the sale price is.

Along with making change, I often struggle with figuring out how much an item is if it’s on sale. What does 25 or 35 percent off mean if I can’t do the mental math to figure out the new price?

Thankfully, technology helps. If there’s a sale, I use the calculator on my smartphone to figure out the discounted price.

3. Scheduling takes all my focus.

Because of my dyscalculia, I sometimes make errors telling time. Setting appointments can be a real struggle. To schedule properly, I need to have my college class schedule, work-study schedule and any other schedules handy and laid out in front of me where I can focus on them. This helps me figure out when I have a free moment for another appointment.

4. I often arrive way too early.

Another frustrating aspect of dyscalculia is estimating how long it takes to travel to a destination. Every morning, I take public transportation to get from home to my college campus. But I have trouble knowing how long it will take each time, especially if there’s traffic or construction on the route.

Because I’m nervous that I’ll be late to class if I don’t leave enough travel time, I wake up three hours ahead of time and leave early. As a result, I’m often waiting outside of class before any other students arrive. Sometimes I’m there even before the professor. But it’s better than being late!

5. Directions like north and south don’t click for me.

Dyscalculia also affects my sense of direction. The map directions “north,” “south,” “east” and “west” often don’t register with me.

When I need to go somewhere, and someone tells me my destination is southwest or northeast, I get especially confused. Thankfully, my smartphone has an easy-to-use map and navigator. Assistive technology makes traveling much easier for me.

6. I bump my head–on everything.

Another surprising thing about dyscalculia is that it can affect spatial awareness. I often have a tough time gauging how far away from me objects like doors, cabinets and countertops are.

I can’t tell you how many times I bump my head on things each week. Sadly, there’s no technology solution for this one. I just have to be extra careful and bend up and down slowly so as not to hit my head.

7. When it comes to driving, I’ll be a late bloomer.

Because of my spatial issues, when I’m in a car I sometimes get nervous about how close other cars are to our car. I’m 21 years old and I don’t have my driver’s license yet. Someday I’ll learn to drive. I know it will take a lot of practice and that will mean facing up to my fears, but it’s another challenge I’ll overcome when I feel ready. And maybe self-driving cars will be a reality by then.

See a day in the life of a teen with dyscalculia, and experience a dyscalculia simulation. Hear from an expert on why dyscalculia is diagnosed less often than dyslexia. And watch a video about Savannah’s journey with dyscalculia in college.

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About the Blogger

Portrait of Savannah Treviño-Casias

Savannah Treviño-Casias is a student at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, where she studies psychology.

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