I have a learning disability. And I’m actually thankful for it. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the things I never would have grown to understand if everything had been easy for me when it came to my education.
Many students struggle with one subject or another. For some kids, it’s reading or even reading comprehension. For others, it’s simply concentrating on one topic for an extended amount of time. For me, math was nearly impossible.
It’s probably important to mention here that my story is one of hope. I was homeschooled all 12 years. I went on to get 2 bachelors degrees and my Masters in Social Work. I succeeded in my educational endeavors, but it wasn’t always easy to get there.
I HATE math. My poor momma was at a complete loss from about the time I was in 2nd grade. Math was never her strong suit but I was nearly a hopeless case. We were very confused about why I just couldn’t seem to understand anything beyond addition and why I couldn’t remember anything I had learned from the day before when it came to numbers.
I always had a deep love of words and learning. I loved homeschooling and I was generally a positive kiddo. I enjoyed peaceful days of reading and writing while sitting on the couch or soaking up the sun at our kitchen table, and I got A’s in almost everything. Math, however, was borderline F when I didn’t go back to re-work every problem. When it was time to do math… I would CRY and sometimes SCREAM in frustration. I would get anxious and fearful as if the problems were going to jump up and attack me. It was a daily battle in our home for a long time.
Momma did what she could but quickly realized I was beyond her help. She found me tutors (as I went through each grade) who could explain things in various ways, but I never fully grasped all of the concepts that were vital to the primary areas of math. It continued to be stressful. Even so, my various tutors somehow helped me keep moving forward.
Eventually, we found the MOST AMAZING tutor who really changed my life. This tutor discovered that I had dyscalculia. This is an actual learning disability that is much like dyslexia but is numbers specific. I had significant trouble grasping concepts because my brain literally works differently. I also transpose numbers all of the time, meaning I would see things out of order and would have difficulty understanding how numbers related to each other. My struggles with this disability also offered a context for why I had so much anxiety surrounding math.
I’m thankful for my diagnosis because it helped my mom and my tutor figure out the next steps to take in helping me be more successful. Learning that I had a disability also gave me confidence in knowing I wasn’t stupid, my brain was literally just wired differently. After finding out I had dyscalculia, I felt that I could better explain my situation to people who just thought I was “numbers-dumb” or that I was “lazy” when it came to getting my math work completed or when I couldn’t figure out simple daily math problems in a normal amount of time.
My tutor was able to take me back to early math and slowly explain things in new ways until concepts began to make a bit more sense, and I’m so thankful that homeschooling allowed us to make time for this. My tutor also worked with me during a summer between my Freshman and sophomore year of college, and with her help, I passed online college statistics.
I had to take other courses on my own at college that involved some math such as physical science. I also had to take statistical analysis for my psychology major (talk about stressful). This would have been nearly impossible but my momma taught me to find resources and to REACH OUT for help. I was taught to not be ashamed about my disability but instead to be very open about it and admit that I needed assistance.
I always informed my professors about my disability (especially when it came to classes that involved my psych major) and I let them know that I was struggling, though it had nothing to do with a lack of willpower. I let them know that I would do whatever it took to truly pass the class and would find outside help. There were also a few times that I utilized my professor’s office hours and sat down with them one on one to work through some of my more complicated questions. I also reached out to a close friend who was a math major. He was so patient with me and he spent literally hours helping me grasp concepts and ENCOURAGING me. That went a long way.
I didn’t get A’s in my college math related courses but low B’s/high C’s’s got me passes. I completed undergrad with a 3.7 overall GPA (just to encourage you that math is just a portion of a well-rounded education). I went on to obtain my masters in a field that requires very little math (Social Work) and I’m loving venturing into new areas and discovering what I can do with my gifts despite my shortcomings!
So, here is a list of things that my learning disability gave me the ability for me to learn:
- Don’t give up/ work hard!
- Ask for help and be honest about your struggles.
- Do your research and find resources.
- Seek to find friends who are understanding and encouraging.
- Let your gifts and talents direct you toward your calling/career. Get to know yourself so you can truly work on your shortcomings and pursue what you’re passionate about.
As I look to the future, I see God’s provision: While growing up, I literally prayed for a husband who would be good at math and could take care of making sure our finances were adding up. Thankfully, God provided above and beyond as I married a man who loves working with numbers and enthusiastically takes care of our budget and taxes. He will definitely be helping with the math in our home as we one day have children of our own and begin homeschooling them.
I hope my story encourages you. No matter what learning struggles your kiddos have, may you always find the support that you need, set an example of humility and grace, and may you place a higher value on character building than academic grades. You’d be amazed at what a learning disability can give you the ability to learn.
- Bryanna Ruesche
PS: If YOUR child struggles with math, I will also mention that I grew up with a little sister who had special needs. My mom later discovered the curriculum “The Life Of Fred.” My sister LEARNED math and my mom said she thinks that if she had known about that curriculum when I was homeschooling, I would have done much better in math as well. It uses stories and illustrations to teach math concepts. I hope to use it one day when I homeschool my own kids.