Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Melting down and mathematics

Joey's mom wrote a very insightful post about meltdowns a while ago that got the cogs turning in my brain. My brother has special needs, although he does not have autism, and I had about 15 false starts on a comment on her post to try and address meltdowns without saying too much personal information about my brother. I just don't think he would appreciate it. And then I thought, "Duh, Katie! Math!"

I am a very verbal person. I have always loved words, and words have always come easily to me. I am not a numbers person. As a child I developed a sort of mental block around math. I hated math, and math would always be hard and dumb. I could feel my brain shutting down when I sat down in front of a sheet of math problems. When I tried to verbalize how I was feeling, all I came up with was, "It's hard. My brain doesn't work that way. It just doesn't." I think what bothered me the most about math was how all the concepts they taught you seemed so random and unrelated to each other. I never understood the logic behind how I was taught to solve the problems, and I had trouble just blindly memorizing the steps. I often gave up because I just did not care. My parents had and have high expectations of me, and I was expected to get A's in my other classes, but with math...they learned to settle with low B's and C's. (Yeah, horrible grades, I know. The real bad ones came at college-level French, which is another post entirely ;) )

Slightly guilty confession: In high school I got diagnosed with a learning disability in math so my SAT scores wouldn't look so bad. I'm pretty sure I got in on a technicality; there was a large gap between my verbal IQ and my math IQ and apparently that gap is what determines if you have a disability.

Just recently I was encouraged to tutor children struggling with 5th grade math. I was so stressed out about it that I cried. My assigned child showed up extremely rarely, but the one time our paths crossed I had to call over the professor multiple times because I did not and do not know how to do fifth grade math. It was extremely embarrassing and frustrating.

Now, I am grateful for my experience with math. I understand how it feels now to have one's brain just shut down when presented with a task, and to not feel capable of turning it back on. Having a tantrum was so much easier than solving those math problems. It's still easier for me to count on my fingers to figure out 7+9 than to reason that since 7+7 is 14, 7+9 must be just 2 more, i.e 16. It is nothing like what it must be to have multiple brain shutdowns across the board like what I gather can happen during a meltdown, but it is a small-scale something that I can use to relate.


Marla said...

I am pretty certain I have an undiagnosed learning disability in math as well. I was also put through hell by more than one teacher while growing up. Once a teacher made me stand at the chalk board for thirty minutes, as she moved on with class. Even though I had no idea how to do the problem. I stood there and cried and she made fun of me. It was terrible. I have heard similar stories where math and girls are concerned. Very sad.

No matter though, math is hell for me. Very tough.

Glad you had such a good experience and I can totally understand the tears.

Tammy and Parker said...

Katie. The page is loading for me. Try the url:


My daughter who has ADD struggles with Math. Big time.

The Broken Man said...

My wife really struggles with maths - I think it must be taught really badly, because she's pretty clever in most other areas.

The Broken Man