My experience growing up with Dyscalculia in Ireland

Kenneth talks about life before he was tested and diagnosed with this learning disability that affects your ability to do maths

Written by Kenneth Henry


I was diagnosed with Dyscalculia when I was 15 years old. Being diagnosed was a relief if anything. I finally had an answer to why school was different for me. Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects your ability to do Maths. Although many people may struggle with Maths, people with Dyscalculia struggle to a much greater extent and may find even basic mathematics extremely difficult. It is estimated that around 7% of students suffer from Dyscalculia.

Symptoms of Dyscalculia 

The symptoms include finding it difficult to:

  • Estimate measurements
  • Keep track of time
  • Count money
  • Understand addition, subtraction, multiplication and division

Maths in school

Growing up it would be accurate to say that maths wasn’t my strong point. Well okay, I have dyslexia too as well as ADHD, so languages were not my strong point and neither was my spelling and grammar. Maths was definitely something I didn’t excel at. My earliest memories of maths was back in primary school. I enjoyed it at first. All these numbers, counting these coloured bricks and then throwing them at my classmates when the teacher wasn’t looking. I thought all this was great. But soon the fun stopped. As the years progressed I fell further and further behind in maths class. Being a few questions behind soon turned into a page, then two, then three. I was told that it was all my fault. All this day dreaming when the teacher was talking and not doing the homework that I didn’t understand. They said I had no one to blame, only myself. But it wasn’t that simple, it’s never simple. My first diagnosis was still years away.

Moving into secondary school

I got myself through primary school and then it was on to secondary school. There was all this hype and all this talk from my older siblings and teachers about all these exams and how hard the work is going to be. It was now my turn to face it. At first, things were not so bad. I was so excited over having my own locker, having different teachers instead of just the one all day, and of course the school shop where every primary school student dreams of spending the whole of break time stuffing their face with sweets.

Similar to French and Irish and many more, Maths was torture. I sat there for the whole class trying to make sense of XY and YX, trying to make sense of all these equations that the rest of the class could easily understand, trying to make sense of myself. Why didn’t I understand what everyone else seemed to be able to do with their eyes closed. I though to myself ‘I must be stupid. I just must be. I’m trying my absolute best but I just can’t do it. They’re right I am stupid.’

Class tests and the Junior Cert

The class tests were the worst through. Just before the test would begin when the teacher would say “I hope ye all studied for it” I would reply in my head ‘Sure how could I study, I haven’t a clue about any of it.’ When the much anticipated results would be given out you could hear the relief and joy coming from my classmates when they found out they got in the 70s, 80s, 90s or even a hundred percent range. But when the results were dropped on my table my heart would skin. The numbers 27% or 25% or 20% inside a circle would sit there on a page staring back at my embarrassed and now depressed self. I felt absolutely devastated that I got such bad results when most of my friends got at least twice as high. I was more or less at the bottom of the class. As the years went on, my maths performance remained the same. Still though I (somehow) managed to pass maths for the junior cert which I was relieved over, as I had thought I’d fail.

Studying for the Leaving Cert Applied

In the run-up to the Junior Cert, I realised that change was needed. I could say to myself I’ll get grinds or work really hard. But in truth, I just needed a change of strategy. In early spring the teachers give us presentations on what to do after the Junior cert. We were given choices, go straight into the Leaving Cert, do transition year or do the Leaving Cert Applied (LCA).I knew that I wasn’t going to go far in 5th year so I did transition year, which was great craic and then went on to do Leaving Cert Applied where after two years of projects and then the final exams I got 167 credits out of 200. After I finished school I did a Post Leaving cert course in Legal Studies where I got eight distinctions out of nine with the 9th subject being – you guessed it – maths which I unsurprisingly failed. Now I am working for the year and I will be going to study Law in September.

What I’ve learned

Anyways if all those years taught me anything it is that if you’re bad at Maths or in my case school itself, it’s definitely not the end of the world. There are always multiple ways to study what you want, or get on the career path you want. If you feel like you’re trying your best at Maths but nothing is changing, or you’ve had a similar experience to what I’ve had, reach out and talk to someone. There is help available out there. 

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