18: My Dyscalculia Self-Diagnosis
Updated: Nov 10
Howdy! Every now and again I see a social media profile with a learning disability or sensory disorder listed in the bio. Rarely, I’ll see others asking them if they self-diagnosed, to discredit their experience. While yes, ideally, we could all afford to see therapists, get diagnosed with our various ailments, and have them properly treated—unfortunately, many lack the funds. We do what we can on our own.
Growing up, I was often told I had a sensory disorder by the health care professional aunt who raised me, but to my knowledge, I’ve never been formally diagnosed. That said, I’ve been a picky eater for as long as I can remember. My (estranged) dad brushed my habits off as attention seeking, but I’m 31 and they’ve only gradually improved. Far from going out of my way to make a scene, while out, I order whatever meal I least need to alter. This means often declining from ordering what I want to eat in favor of what I can.
How picky am I talking here? Well, I eat like a very happy seven year old. I eat meat, carbs, dairy (excluding milk itself), and sugary sweets. I rarely eat vegetables, fruits, and seafood. If it's not in a Reese's, I'm not eating peanut butter. There are exceptions. I love onions, enjoy tomato sauce, pomegranates, and sushi. I don’t mind spaghetti squash, cucumbers, oranges, blueberries, and bananas. The issue with fruits is the texture. For veggies, it’s a combination of the textures and flavors, whereas for seafood, it’s the smell. I can’t get past the smell to try the flavors, though when I've tried, the taste matched the smell which was bad.
To my dad's credit, with regards to his theory, I used to drink milk and eat peanut butter when I was very little. Then, due to financial hardship, we began receiving boxes of food from a government service agency. These boxes, while much appreciated, included powdered milk and army grade peanut butter. My experience with those products turned my off milk and peanut butter forever, so I was not born disgusted by them.
Until high school, I figured that was the extent of my disorder. Then came the shuttle run. For non-U.S. Americans, the shuttle run is a physical fitness test students take once or twice a year as part of their gym class. The test is a timed sprint from the starting line to the blocks at the finish line, where a block is grabbed, ran back to and dropped at the starting line, before running to the finish line for the second block, and back to and past the starting line again with the block in hand. I could not finish the test because I kept dropping the blocks. Finally, after making me retake it several times, the teacher gave up. Rather than being shamed again when this test was next scheduled to occur, I went to the nurse’s office, claiming period pains. The only time I ever cut class intentionally, outside of senior cut day, was to avoid the shuttle run.
There was another issue that reared it’s oddly shaped head when I was going through puberty. Every now and again, I’d touch a texture I couldn’t abide by and time would feel wrong for a moment. For instance, I picked up a hard piece of pasta in the backseat of a car. Perhaps the trouble was the expectation that pasta should not be hard? I don’t know, and the sensation has occurred infrequently since, but I rejected this hard pasta. I anticipated one sensation, I think, experienced another, and my perception of time slowed until I dropped the noodle. That’s the only way I can explain it. I can’t claim any consistency for that experience. I can pick up a hard noodle just fine. The only texture I’ve consistently struggled with, outside of foods, is that of twine or rope. I wear gloves when dealing with twine. My best guess for why is that at some point in my youth I was fixated, not on how twine felt, but how it looked like it would feel, being strung of curled hard splinters. I'm not repulsed by how rough twine is, but by how splintery it appears.
It didn’t occur to me that my struggles with learning math, despite doing all my homework and paying attention in class, were an issue. Being bad at math is so common as to be a trope in stories. Being bad at math is normal. Struggling to remember left and right, however, is not.
There's a practice IQ test online that folks interested in joining Mensa are encouraged to take before they pay for the real sit-down exam. I took it, and while my computer froze during the timed math section, I actually did the worst in the directional section. Recognizing where the hand was pointing, from which perspective, confused me a great deal. I used to joke that I had Directional Dyslexia until, on a whim, I Googled, and learned that was a real disability that often concurrently appears with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and Dyspraxia. It’s called Left-Right Confusion. I knew enough about Dyslexia to know I do not have it, but I read up on Dyscalculia, which is a learning disability, and generally manifests as an inability to learn math.
Am I so bad at math as to claim a learning disability? I’m not sure. I averaged a C on everything but geometry, in which I averaged an A. C’s aren't that bad, but I am awful at directions, both in terms of following a sequence, and in the cardinal sense.
One symptom of dyscalculia that I initially disregarded as inapplicable to me was “Difficulty recalling the names of numbers, or thinking that certain different numbers "feel" the same (e.g. frequently interchanging the same two numbers for each other when reading or recalling them),” but to a slight degree, I do deal with this. I confuse 3 and 5, May and March, when picking up prescriptions for my dog Sonmi, whose invented birthday I constantly forget. 3, 5, May, and March, all feel like the letter H, by the way.
When I worked retail, a struggle of mine was dealing with extra change after the register already rang out a total to give back, which is a common symptom of dyscalculia. When the customer gave me five, ten, twenty-five cents more, expecting me to make the difference in my head, I froze, every time. Even now, years later, I chastise my fiancé when he gives change to cashiers after they’ve already rung up the total. I wait until we’re out of earshot, because inevitably he’ll share minor contempt or exasperation at their confusion, and I’ll remind him that I struggled in the same fashion. Just because he’s great at math doesn't mean the rest of us are equally skilled and a little patience goes a long way.
Likewise, I don’t enjoy board games, especially those that last longer than an hour. I figured, my constantly forgetting whose turn it was or how many points I’d accumulated was due to a disinterest in the game, and it might be, but it could also be due to dyscalculia.
Then there's my spatial awareness which is off. It turns out that being unable to memorize dance moves, which relies on both the ability to recall directions and basic spatial awareness, is a symptom of dyscalculia. At 31 years old, I still find myself elbowing door frames and walking into tables, bumping my head on cabinets, etc. I’m neither tall nor wide, yet very clumsy. My aim when throwing and ability to catch, are subpar, but I’ve also never had any interest in athletics, so that could be due to never practicing. These are obvious symptoms of dyspraxia, however, sufferers of dyspraxia also struggle with their fine motor skills, and being an artist, despite by awful handwriting, I do not. Sufferers of dyspraxia also have limited attention spans, and while Youtube and Twitter vie to reduce mine, they’ve yet to succeed. I can read, write, or paint for hours.
When practicing driving, I’m confused as to the distance of obstacles and where my lane’s barriers in relation to myself and my vehicle. My anxiety peaks behind the wheel because there are too many moving parts and I have to keep track of all of them without hitting anybody with my giant roving death machine.
Going over the list of symptoms, I'm also terrible at remembering names and matching them to faces. I figured that was due to a lack of interest in new people, until I’ve interacted with them a few times, but maybe, that’s part of a larger issue. I’ve also seen other symptoms listed, though not on academic sites, that rung especially true for me. Probably on reddit or Twitter, I read that Dyscalculia can also explain an inability to recognize pitch or musical keys. In college, I took a single credit chorus course and was asked to leave after the first day because, while to the best of my knowledge I am capable of matching a chorus of voices, I have no idea how to relate the sound of a human voice, my voice, to that of a piano key. Is that part of dyscalculia? Is my sensory disorder part of dyscalculia? Or its own thing entirely? Hell if I know.
As for symptoms I do not have, I’m pretty good at remembering dates, and when I set my mind to it, I can remember phone numbers. I could tell you the phone number to my local library when I was in high school right now. I do not have difficulty stating which of two numbers is larger. It takes me longer than it should to remember, but I can mostly recall the basic multiplication tables 1-12. While I’m not frequently late, that’s because I aim to be early everywhere I go. If I have to be somewhere by a certain time, I’m focused on reminding myself when I need to leave to make my appointment. My fiancé is the opposite, and is perfectly comfortable being late to everything, which causes me no end of anxiety. I don’t think I’m bad at reading maps exactly, but I do rely a lot on Google’s compass. When that compass isn’t working, if there aren’t street signs nearby, I’m lost. Yeah, I know the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and I've got "Never Eat Sour Watermelons" down, but using the sun slows me down a lot. My fiancé is stunned by my poor recall of the layout of our neighborhood. I know how to walk to the few locations I regularly walk to. Anywhere we’ve reached by his driving, I do not know how to reach.
So how does any of this relate to the sensory disorder I detailed starting out? Well, knowing I had issues was what caused me to look into diagnosing myself. Can’t say I’ve pinpointed a catch-all name for my sensory disorder but recognizing I suffer from a learning disorder has helped me to understand why I’m so uncomfortable driving, and generally clumsy. Could I be wrong? Sure. If I could afford to, I’d like to go over all of this with a therapist. But here’s where Googling around brought me so for the time being, I’ve got Anxiety (I don't need a therapist to tell me that though they’re welcome to), Dyscalculia, and a Sensory Disorder.
TL;DR: I’m a picky eater due to a sensory disorder. I’ve got Dyscalculia because I’m bad at math, bad at distinguishing between left and right, bad at following both sequential and cardinal directions, have limited spatial awareness, and have trouble connecting names to faces. I do not have Dyspraxia because I can draw really well and I do not have a short attention span.