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Verbal v. Mathematical, part 2
mandelbrot 2
I've been thinking some more about the verbal/mathematical thing from my last entry, based on some of the comments that I received. Specifically, I've been thinking about the learning disabilities side of things, since I didn't really consider that at first, concentrating more on those who don't, rather than those who can't.

I should say two things straight off the bat. Firstly, I'm very sceptical about the whole idea of learning disabilities. This is not because I don't believe that they exist but rather because I'm deeply mistrustful of the system that insists on trying to fit square pegs into round holes. just_the_ash mentioned the community dyscalculia in her comment to my last entry, and when I looked in there, I found an entry or two where people were talking about the difference between "not good at maths" and "dyscalculia". The implication there was that everyone should be able to do maths, and if you can't then you need to have a good concrete reason to excuse yourself from it.

I don't like that way of looking at things. If you're no good at maths then you're no good at maths. This doesn't make you any worse of a person, and the reason for it is unimportant. Either way, I'd recommend that you stop taking maths classes and avoid a career in accountancy or engineering. (And yes, I'm well aware that the former isn't always possible, but I really think that it should be). Likewise, if you have poor verbal and written skills then it doesn't matter to me whether you're dyslexic or not.

Essentially, I see the label of learning disabilities as an attempt to excuse something that shouldn't need to be excused. Again, I recognise that it isn't always that simple, since there are certain people and institutions who do consider that these things need to be excused. I don't.

The second thing that I want to declare is that I have what appear to me to be mild cases of both dyslexia and dyscalculia. For instance, when I'm writing, I will often confuse the letters d and g; I am absolutely hopeless at double letters, frequently missing them where they should be and inserting them where they shouldn't; I make sign errors in calculations all the freaking time; I have to concentrate when copying numbers to avoid transposing digits. These have never caused me any serious difficulty, both because they are minor and because I've learned methods of coping with them, such as using a spell checker, and always checking calculations I do.

With that all said, onwards. I've been thinking about dyslexia and dyscalculia, and how perceptions and knowledge of the two tend to differ markedly. Dyslexia is by far the better known and better understood. In fact, dyscalculia often tends to get referred to as "like dyslexia, only for maths". I think that this tends to back up my original point: the perception seems to be that if you have difficulties with verbal and written skills then it means that there's probably something wrong with you, but if you have difficulties with mathematics then it means that you're no good at maths. People seem to be much more eager to seek an explanation for people who can't do words than for people who can't do numbers.

There also seems to be much more accommodation in places for dyslexics than dyscalculics. I know that at my university at least, there's a great deal of support and dispensation offered to those with dyslexia, such as extra time to sit exams. As far as I am aware, no such provision exists for those with dyscalculia. I suspect that if someone with dyslexia wanted to do an English degree, they'd be perfectly welcome, but that someone with dyscalculia wanting to do a physics degree would probably receive funny looks.

I don't think that there's any sort of inherent reason why this need be the case, though. I suspect that it's mainly because methods of teaching dyslexics are better than methods of teaching dyscalculics. You only have to look in the comments on my last entry, or in the dyscalculia community, and you'll see people saying that they absolutely and categorically cannot learn maths. But it's rare to see anyone saying that any but the severest of dyslexics absolutely and categorically can't learn to spell.

I don't believe that that's because arithmetic is intrinsically more difficult than spelling. I think it's just because there have been better techniques developed for teaching dyslexics that get around the learning disability and allow progress, whereas much maths teaching, to put it bluntly, sucks. Again, I'd surmise that the reason for this is the greater perceived importance of language skills. It's considered more important for people to know how to spell than how to add, so that's the area where efforts have historically been focussed.

For the most part, I'm really only speculating here and could be far, far wide of the mark, but the ideas I'm proposing all just seem to make sense to me. What I should say, though, is that my knowledge of learning disabilities is extremely limited, so if I'm making any incorrect assumptions here, I'd definitely appreciate it if people could let me know.

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I felt weird after posting and deleted it. I don't know why. Sorry.

From my experience with the disability service at my uni, if you've certification as having discalculia, then they'll give you whatever support is recommended - like having an extra half hour in exams. If you've not got the bit of doctor-signed paper to say you're discalulic(?), no dice. Of course, the same goes for dyspraxia and all other learning difficulties.

I've no idea what support would be reccomended by assessors for dyscalculia. The kind of stuff for dyslexia might not be appropriate - a note-taker in lectures would undoubtably be helpful, as would a learning support assistant, to teach new coping methods and to proofread your work. For my dyspraxia I also had an official note on my file that said I was officially clumsy and uncoordinated, and therefore could you please take that into account if you make her do anything involving fine motor skills. An excuse? probably. I loathed doing mapping or slide diagrams or any of the other things which required me to draw stuff, because I simply couldn't make the pencil go where I wanted/needed it to. And generally, they took it into account. Occasionally I got essays to write instead, and I won't be taking up a career as an artist of any stripe - I have this problem, and although I've developed coping methods, as anyone with a learning disability should, there is no sense in demanding the world bend around me and give me what I want, just because I have this problem.

But if dyscalculia makes you transpose numbers, that could potentially be more serious than dyslexia. Even if a word becomes incorrect through dyslexic errors, the context generally makes it possible to figure out. If you transpose numbers partway through solving an equation?

Is it all part of the whole stigma of science, where you can happily admit to having no knowledge at all about say, chemistry, and be confident that nobody will consider you an ill-educated oaf, but admitting to not having read Shakespeare or whatever will get you wierd looks? The whole Barbie, 'Math is hard!' nonsense - could you imagine a toy released that spouted 'I can't read!'?

Oooh, that was fractured. I do hope it makes some sense.


As part of my dissertation (I did a small scale study of how people cognitively process information if they have dyslexia/dyscalculia) I found the url above from the University of Strathclyde. They offer dyscalculic people support in science based subjects with equations and allow them to use number tables in labs so they can get on with doing instead of being screwed over by it.

I think there is a great deal more to dyslexia/dyscalculia than problems with writing/numbers.

A greater part of the problem for people with the dys* range of 'learning difficulties' is that of sequencing and spatial abilities. for example research (I could dig citation out of my dissertation) shows that a high percentage of dyslexics will have significant problems with mathematical skills due to the way the numbers/sums/etc are laid out.



Both of the above represent the same thing, but for a serious dyslexic the changing of the layout can be enough to confuse them into misunderstanding.

I agree that 'almost everyone' seems to have 'something' these days, and maybe they do. The severity of dyslexia is not always apparent until proper testing is carried out, sometimes people are 'clever/intelligent' enough to work harder to overcome the problem and only get a diagnosis at degree/postgrad level. We all have coping mechanisms for those things that we mess up repeatedly, as some dyslexics overcome (with help or not) the majority of their problems.

Interestingly while doing my dissertation I had a 20 question self filled "are you dyslexic" test which I gakked from one of the dyslexia associations. Now there are several flaws in that research method not least the 'self filling in' and the nature of it. Several of the people who I asked to fill it out scored highly on it, not because they were dyslexic, but because they were lazy and sloppy (they said it not me)....

The actual dyslexics did score much higher even than the lazy people, especially upon the target questions (the ones which are more likely to discern dyslexics from non-dyslexics). One of the people with dyslexia did an English literature degree, writes very nicely and reads very regularly.

Conversely one of the people who we believed might have dyscalculia could not even do basic maths without a visual cue (say adding 10 minutes to time 15:25 --> 15:35). She used an analogue clock to work things out and would take a long time doing it over and over again. This wasn't something she made a fuss about, having got to the age of 60 and managed a household's finances, brought up three kids alone after her husband died and all that stuff. Her children said they always thought her obsessive writing things down and doing the maths laboriously was mind-games; it wasn't till they were older they realised she had real difficulties.

I suspect better understanding and school instead of 'shame' and punishment which several of my participants received at school for struggling with things 'everyone else' understood has made things worse. The younger dyslexics who have received proper support, understanding and advice on coping techniques are far less disabled by it.

I wanted you to know that i read both entries, and they were very interesting, and i will respond later (you've given me a lot to think about and a lot i want to comment about...just thoughts, what not,) but I have class at 8 and it is 7:36 my time. so, no time now, later though. Thanks for the links :)

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