2010-07-27

Whatever that means

After nearly giving my boss a heart attack by saying the estimated cost for a one-hour session with refreshments and a projector was seven thousand instead of one thousand seven hundred dollars, looking the correct number up and correcting myself, I returned to my desk.

What the hell is the matter with me? It's not like I can't count, but when I need to retrieve numbers from memory, I might as well have a random number generator for a brain.

Well, and to be honest, I never could count without using paper or my fingers, or a calculator.

So there I was, sitting at my desk, wondering how I could mix up 7000 and 1700.

I heard of dyslexia, but if anything else, I have the exact opposite situation with language. I speak, read, and write in three languages, without as much as a spelling error. Words come easy to me, and if I have had a chance to see how a word is properly spelt, I would not have trouble remembering that.

Yet I can't even remember my own phone number, the one I have had for nearly five years, as a sequence of digits. I have to read it out loud to make sure that what I typed is right.

Where is a concerned geek to go but to the mighty Google? "Dyslexia but with numbers," I began to type and Google helpfully autocompleted my query. Guess it's not uncommon.

The results page suggested "dyscalculia" was the answer. How do you even pronounce this?

As I began reading through the list of symptoms, I began to recognize myself in many of them. Even my lacking sense of direction and my abject failure at learning to read sheet music fell into place.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. How I could never, not to this day, remember the multiplication tables, how I always mix up 6 and 8, how I can't perform even simple arithmetic mentally.

I guess I compensated well enough for this disability throughout my academic life for anyone to give it more than a passing note, and I made sure to avoid anything to do with numbers now that I am an adult. I function well, and I have learned to use my right brain wherever I can instead. I estimate very accurately, and have an arsenal of counting tricks available to me to figure how much to give as a tip at lunch or what the sales tax would be at the checkout.

Translating Imperial units into something I understand however is impossible. Even after looking it up and asking my friends countless times, I still can't remember how many inches to a meter and how many grams to an ounce. I gave up on kilos for measuring my weight, and thankfully 5'7" is easy to remember, even though 5 and 7 are kind of the same to me, but I know that 7 ft. would be an impossibly tall Alex.

And then there's technology. Navigation devices, calculators, self-serve checkout lines at the supermarket, so I don't have to deal with humans and change. There's the helpful online tax filing application, but doing taxes still gives me a mild anxiety attack.

When I bought my first TomTom in 2006, my mother disapproved: "This way, you will never learn to find your way!"

But mother, if I haven't learned to find my way till the ripe age of 30, don't you think it's time to accept that I never will?"

From what I can tell, there is nothing else to do but learn to compensate for mathematics disability with other parts of my brain or with gadgets, so there really is no point to this but to share the "ahah!" moment and to give you a glimpse of how different our all brains work.