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My Eternal Struggle With Numbers

Special needs stories-Special education storiesI stare down blankly at the black printed numbers placed dully upon my test paper. I read the problem slowly in my mind. Gradually the all too familiar feeling creeps in like a dark, looming menace waiting to strike. As I try to formulate an answer, I feel the clouds of mental blockage rolling in and taking with them all of the steps and processes that I had relentlessly studied the night before. The more I try to focus, the more information slips from my grasp. It was hopeless. My unknown learning disability had taken its course once again. This was a normal occurrence during a time of great confusion and frustration in my life, a time when I was undiagnosed and lacked the necessary accommodations in order to make success in mathematics achievable.

I was diagnosed with dyscalculia in fifth grade at the age of 11. Dyscalculia is like the math form of dyslexia and makes it difficult for me to do basic math functions. Numbers and math symbols present themselves like a foreign language in my mind. Dyscalculia affects my ability to comprehend and remember arithmetic operations. My learning disability affects many areas of my daily life such as reading analog clocks and counting change. Dealing with dyscalculia has without a doubt been a very challenging experience, but one that has given me resilience and perseverance. I am determined to make the most out of what life has given me.

Kirstin Bell, an Anne Ford & Allegra Ford Scholarship Finalist in 2011, struggled with math throughout elementary school. When a caring teacher noticed her struggle in fifth grade, Kirstin was evaluated and diagnosed with dyscalculia. Now a college-bound high school senior, Kirstin understands her dyscalculia as “a part of me that I have embraced.”


Ever since first grade, I have been in an eternal struggle with numbers. Before I was diagnosed with dyscalculia, I was unable to understand why no matter how hard I applied myself, received extra help or studied, I couldn’t learn math. My passions in life have always been the arts, reading, writing, and literature. However, mathematics was different. It wasn’t a definition or a fact that I could memorize. Math simply did not compute.

Throughout my difficult progression in elementary school I faced discouraging teachers who punished me when my math work was incomplete or incorrect and forced me to do problems on the blackboard in front of the entire class. It made me feel ashamed, incapable and ignorant. My teachers’ misguided accusations were that I was either “unwilling to learn” or “just plain lazy.” What my educators didn’t realize was that something in my mind was keeping me from learning and remembering how to work math problems. I required a different method of teaching which wasn’t discovered until my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Alvis, suggested I be evaluated for a learning disability.

Mrs. Alvis was the only teacher who recognized that I was struggling and genuinely cared that my grades were suffering as a result. She had observed that I was constantly relying on my fingers for addition and subtraction and that I performed very well in everything except mathematics. She was my guardian angel. I still remember her caring blue eyes, curly silver hair and sweet southern accent as if it were yesterday. I was evaluated and met the standards for having dyscalculia. Receiving my diagnosis exposed a whole new world of assistance and accommodations. Throughout middle school and high school I’ve utilized my accommodations and unique learning style to my advantage.

The word “disability” really hits home and has affected my family very deeply. My older sister is disabled both physically and mentally due to an injury at birth. I have assisted in many aspects of her care throughout my life which has taught me responsibility, patience and compassion. In the year 2000 my father was injured in a hunting accident. He suffered a severed spinal cord and was paralyzed from the upper abdomen down. My father taught me a valuable lesson: he refused to give up despite the severity of his injury and was a great inspiration to me and others. His strong will and determination to fight through his disability made me realize that I can achieve any goal I set for myself.

I am not ashamed of my learning disability. Dyscalculia is and will always be a part of me that I have embraced as a unique blessing. It has shaped the person I am today and who I strive to become. Having a learning disability pushes me to strive for the utmost success in my life, to make a difference, and to achieve the ultimate dream of attending college in pursuit of a career in communications/journalism. I am constantly in the quest of excellence and self-improvement. I have learned to turn every obstacle into an accomplishment and every failure into a learning experience.

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