Dyscalculia, Dyslexia and Schools That Just Won’t Listen.
For years we have been telling my eldest daughter’s school we were concerned she may have Dyslexia or a similar associated issue. For years the school have told us we should not worry, she is not the worst in the class (I will come back to that comment) and she just needs to catch up a bit. However, after three years of watching her struggle with maths and English as well as anxiety triggered by these struggles, we cracked and had her assessed by an educational psychologist.
Imagine our lack of surprise when the report that came back said she was dyslexic and also had something called dyscalculia. Only about 5% of people are diagnosed with dyscalculia, compared to around 10–15% for dyslexia. For those who don’t know about dyscalculia, like me, it is similar to dyslexia except instead of difficulty with words, she has difficulty with numbers. However, the reality is worse than it may sound. It is not just maths this affects. It has an knockon effect on how she interprets the world around her, manages memory and pattern recognition. It means, for the most part, everything she does in maths must be boiled down to addition. She has no mechanisms to understand things most find basic, like magnitude. Estimation is near impossible, so she can’t convert a visual distance into an estimated number or tell you how many counters there are on a table after about 10 have been laid out. She can’t use an analogue clock either as that requires estimation of how far around the clock the hands are.
These are just some of the issues associated with dyscalculia, and that is not considering dyslexia affecting her abilities in English.
It is like cycling in the wrong gear. Your legs are going at a hundred miles an hour, but the bike is only going at 10. No wonder she is always mentally exhausted.
As you can imagine, this has several effects on us as parents. The first was slight vindication, we were right. The second was an immense concern for our daughter, who is just months away from sitting her SAT’s and moving on to a new school. After that, there is an unbridled rage at the school for constantly making us feel like we were just overreactive parents for thinking there was a problem. Finally, there is the shame and guilt that we allowed the school to fob us off. I myself am dyslexic and could see the problems mirroring my own. I even told the school this. My wife could see it, and begged people to listen. We took the school on their word as they kept reassuring us that any issues would get picked up. We believed them as they, in our minds, were the experts.
This is where I come back to the bit about “She is not the worst in the class”. Because she was not the best and because she was not the worst, she was not given any extra attention. I can see how this might happen and can (in some ways) understand it. Resources are limited and if she is not an Oxbridge candidate or one with obviously sever difficulties, she could get left to her own devices. However, the reason she is not the worst is because, as the psychologist put it, she has developed “Phenomenal” coping mechanisms on her own. What that means is to achieve an average score in day to day school life, she must run through her own invented mechanisms to do tasks others find easy, working twice as hard to achieve the same result. It is like cycling in the wrong gear. Your legs are going at a hundred miles an hour, but the bike is only going at 10. No wonder she is always mentally exhausted.
So now, at a critical time in her education, we are having to scramble to get her the support she needs to get through her SAT’s and start to learn new ways of thinking and learning. Sadly, dyscalculia is not a well-researched educational problem, so finding a tutor who can help is very hard. We have less than 2 weeks to decide what school she is going to go to next and now must take these issues into consideration. We also must bite our tongues whilst dealing with a school that has failed her at every turn they possibly could, despite our begging them to listen to us time and time again.
And, I will bite my tongue as we are doing this for our daughter, but I swear if I hear “we specifically teach to assist with these types of needs” or “miss XXX is an expert in spotting these kinds of problems” I am going to get very, very, very shouty.