Why Can’t I Do Math In My Head?

why can't i do math in my head

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Have you ever asked, “why can’t I do math in my head”? You may be suffering from a condition known as dyscalculia, which often is associated with ADHD.

Dyscalculia is a condition that makes it difficult for a person to do math or math-related tasks. It affects the ability to perform calculations or make sense of mathematics, be it counting numbers or even memorizing tables. Approximately 5-7% of students in the U.S. have dyscalculia.

Many children find math a subject that is boring or demanding. However, for those who suffer from dyscalculia, learning math is not only confusing but also overwhelming. This painful relationship with math, however, does not end as you grow older.

Dyscalculia is analogous to dyslexia. The only difference is that dyscalculia relates to numbers and not letters like dyslexia, and it relates to math instead of reading. It is a disorder that stays with you for your whole life. Its diagnosis can take place at any time, but it is typically first recognized during childhood. Dyscalculia affects both genders equally, although for girls and women it can be a double-whammy because we are competing with the myth that girls/women are bad at math.

“There’s no two ways about it: From a young age, girls are just as good at math as boys,” explains Katherine J. Wu of NOVA online. “Even so, a gender gap in math-focused fields persists, as women remain less likely than men to pursue high-level studies and careers in these areas.”

Related: Does Coffee Help ADHD?

ADHD & Dyscalculia

Why can’t I do math in my head – is it ADHD? There’s an estimated 20% of people with ADHD who suffer from dyscalculia as well. ADHD can make the effects of dyscalculia even worse. This is because when you have ADHD, it becomes tough for you to work on something that you don’t find interesting. On the other hand, when you suffer from dyscalculia, math may not be something that you find interesting because you struggle with it.

That said, it is a challenge to distinguish a specific learning disability like dyscalculia from ADHD. The symptoms of both disorders often overlap, making it hard to determine where the learning disability starts and where the ADHD ends. Due to the multiple processes and brain functions necessary for one to solve math problems, people with ADHD also suffer from dyscalculia. There are math difficulties that are specifically associated with ADHD. These math difficulties are organization, working memory and inattention.

Educational therapist Dr. Diana Kennedy knows this all too well.

“At math conferences, I am often the only one talking about learning disabilities. And at learning disabilities conferences, when I present my talk ‘What’s math got to do with it? Math learning disabilities, dyslexia, and ADHD,’ I’m often the only one talking about math,” said Dr. Kennedy in ADDitude magazine. “There is a near-void of information about the connections and interactions between ADHD, language-based disorders, and math learning disabilities — and the implications for treatment. Yet data tell us this is a critical need.”

If you’ve ever struggled with mental math when dealing with change or struggled to figure out a sales price in your head, this could be dyscalculia. The condition also can make scheduling difficult, as some will struggle to tell time.

In my own personal experience, I was always terrible at math. I commonly blamed my Algebra I teacher, because she was planning her wedding during the entire semester. When I graduated high school, I distinctly remember working at various restaurants and retail stores and always having anxiety around giving back change. I frequently gave back the wrong amount. Throughout my life I’ve also had issues with time – getting the time wrong on an appointment, entering the time incorrectly in the calendar, etc. The list could go on forever.

Is if dyscalculia? Is it ADHD? While I’ve tested positive for the latter, I’ve never taken a test for the former. It’s just another thing I keep in the back of my mind as a possibility, but I have never been motivated to actually get to the bottom of it. Much like “what came first, the depression/anxiety or the ADHD?” it’s one of many questions I may never have the answer to, but being aware of the relationship and having the awareness is enough for me. And, it’s something I can look out for in my daughter.

Adult Dyscalculia

Any math-related shame may follow those with dyscalculia into adulthood. It could be difficult to keep track of numbers or perform basic math calculations. Activities like driving to work or buying your morning coffee could be affected. If, as an adult, you’re diagnosed with dyscalculia, chances are that you have had the condition since you were born, or the disease may be as a result of a brain injury or stroke that you incurred.

Some of the symptoms associated with dyscalculia present themselves in a wide range. We have dyscalculia symptoms in adults at home, and in the workplace. If you are at home and are often asking why can’t I do math in my head, you may have experienced some of these symptoms provided by ADDitude magazine:

  • Difficulty doing mental math. Trouble doing could manifest itself when you find yourself giving incorrect change.
  • Difficulty in remembering names.
  • You often drive either too fast or too slowly, or you hugely misjudge the amount of time it will take to drive somewhere.
  • Immediately jotting down a phone number as soon as you receive one in order to remember it.
  • Struggling to keep scores as a game continues or, you often lose track of whose turn in a game it is to play.
  • When it comes to things that are number-related like dates, you realize you have a poor memory.
  • You are continually struggling when learning dance steps or activities that involve motor sequencing

Dyscalculia in the Workplace

Why can’t I do math in my head when I’m at work? If you experience any of the below symptoms provided by ADDitude; you could be suffering from dyscalculia:

  • Getting anxious when you think of having to unexpectedly do math at work.
  • Handling of money or keeping track of finances gives you trouble.
  • While doing a task, you find that you frequently run out of time or you while planning for time to do all your work, you fail to factor adequate time to complete all your tasks.
  • Difficulty in understanding charts or graphs.
  • When reading a spreadsheet or a long list, you often transpose numbers or skip them.
  • Excel formulas are hard for you to use.
  • You’re using your fingers when counting or you often keep track of numbers by marking pages with tally marks on them.
  • The need to go through work over and over again because you often get different answers to the same math problem.
  • Constant trouble in remembering math rules or times table.
  • Slow performance of calculations.
  • Your estimation of numbers, distance or quantities is poor.
  • Judgment of distance and space is poor.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Dyscalculia

Treatment of dyscalculia is not administered with medication. What is used to help both adults and kids cope with dyscalculia is the use of both learning strategies that are specialized and strategic accommodations. The specialized learning strategies allow those suffering from dyscalculia to learn how to compensate for the difficulties they face when dealing with math and eventually approach math with confidence.

The treatment strategy taken for dyscalculia is a long-range goal. What this strategy aims at is teaching calculation techniques and build the reasoning skills that are necessary for one to solve math problems. If the treatment strategy is more short-term than long-term, the treatment should focus on the removal of obstacles in the way of learning, therefore, making math easier to use both quickly as well as accurately.

Cognitive training products is one place an adult can turn who’s asking “why can’t I do math in my head?”. CogniFit, for example, aims to help adults with dyscalculia “improve cognitive skills affected by this disorder.” These cognitive areas include memory, perception, attention, coordination, and reasoning. Activities that users participate in during the program “strengthen the neural networks involved in the cognitive abilities altered in dyscalculia”.

Resources:  www.additubemag.com, www.webmd.com, www.halfpennydevelopment.co.uk, www.understood.org, www.disabilityinkidlit.com

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