firehouse pizza banner

Cheryl Hughes: I just don't understand

Last week, I was trying to put drops into my eyes with the new drops my ophthalmologist prescribed for my dry eye condition.  I struggled with the bottle for days before I finally approached Garey for help.

“Can you see if I have all the seals broken on this bottle,” I said.  “I have to squeeze the daylights out of it to get a single drop to come out.”

Garey looked it over, told me to tilt my head back, then put drops into my left eye, with seemingly little effort.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“I squeezed the daylights out of it,” he grinned.  (Nobody likes a smart aleck.)  “I squeezed in the very center of the bottle,” he explained.  “You probably squeezed nearer to the bottom or the top.”  I could have drained that bottle before I ever figured that out.

One day last winter, I fiddled with the zipper on my coat for ten minutes before I asked Garey for help.  “Can you help me figure out what’s wrong with this zipper,” I asked.  Garey walked up to me, flipped the slider over and zipped my coat.

“Please don’t die before I do,” I said, “or I won’t be able to zip up my winter coat, and I’ll freeze to death in the snow.”

I have been like this my whole life.  The things that are amazingly simple for others tend to give me fits.  I can’t estimate distance.  If you ask me how far it is to my sister’s house in Prestonsburg, I will tell you four and one-half hours.  I have no idea how far it is in miles.  I can’t remember numbers, and I have trouble adding numbers in my head.  (However, I do recognize number patterns.)  If I’m going to hang a picture on a wall, it takes me forever to get the right measurements and make the adjustments for the picture hanger on the back of the frame.  I have to repeat the parking space number at Walmart over and over again in my head, so I can remember where I parked. (Since the invention of the cell phone camera, I take a picture of it before I go into the store.)

When I was a kid, I had severe math anxiety.  In the third grade, I kept failing the telling-time tests, you know, the ones with the analog clock and the big hand and little hand.  I got a D in music that same year, because I couldn’t figure out the notes for the song I was supposed to play on the recorder.  When I was finishing my music degree at Western, I almost lost my mind in music theory for the same reason.  Musical notes do not look like the music I’m hearing.  They still don’t.

Do you know what all these challenges, I have faced my entire life, mean?  I have dyscalculia.  Do you know how I figured it out?  I heard an interview with Cher—one half of the duo, Sonny and Cher.  Cher dropped out of high school, because she was tired of feeling stupid.  I know the feeling.  She was diagnosed with dyscalculia when she took her own daughter to be tested.  Cher has dyslexia, as well.  Thank God, I don’t have dyslexia!  I wouldn’t have been able to function at all.  My hat is off to her for the amazing way she was able to overcome and have a very successful life.

In September, when I went for my annual Medicare checkup, the nurse practitioner asked me to draw an analog clock and show the time, ten minutes after eleven.  I told her to give me a few minutes.  I drew the circle, I put in the four points, 12, 3, 6, 9, then I had to stop to remember if the little hand was the hour hand or the minutes hand.  I remembered it was the hour hand, and I finished up the clock.  

“I don’t have dementia,” I said, “I have dyscalculia.  It’s like dyslexia for numbers.”

“Spell that, so I can research it,” she said.  I was so relieved that she didn’t think I was making something up to hide my really having dementia.  

I don’t have all the symptoms of dyscalculia, just enough of them to make my life challenging at times, but then, most of us have symptoms of something that make our lives challenging at times.  The following is a partial list of the symptoms of dyscalculia.  I’m adding the list to this column in case you have a child in your life who is really struggling with math concepts.  It would have been nice to have help back in the day when I was feeling really stupid.

Symptoms of Dyscalculia:

Struggling to remember or recognize numbers

Recognize numbers but struggle with equations

Musical notes don’t look like they sound

Can’t remember the names of shapes

Trouble estimating 

Trouble measuring

Trouble telling time on an analogue clock

Difficulty understanding place value

Trouble with mental math

High levels of math anxiety

For a complete list of symptoms, check out


Bookmark and Share