2e: A Dyscalculia Story


Parenting a twice-exceptional child as they enter school could be likened to hacking your way through a horrible, complicated maze in the jungle, only to finally come into a clearing and realize that homeschooling is really the only viable option. I retell our personal experiences here not only to offer some hope to those considering homeschooling their 2e child, but also to inform others about dyscalculia, a math learning disability. Had we, or the teachers we encountered, known about dyscalculia sooner, it would have saved my daughter a tremendous amount of pain and heartache.

The story begins, as all stories do, at the beginning. Our daughter, H, went through the usual early childhood milestones, a bundle of joyful exuberance and dramatic entrances. She entered preschool and learned to read at age 3 1/2, along with her twin sister.  The Montessori preschool they attended for a few hours a day was a fun place for both of them to make new friends and learn new things. There were a few parent-teacher conferences, where the reading teacher glowed about how well they were both doing with reading. The math teacher would tell us how well our one daughter was doing with the math activities. When we asked about our other daughter, she noted that H didn’t like to visit the math area. We didn’t think too much of this fact, since at age 3 or 4 we had no expectations of them really learning anything of substance.  She appeared to be learning her numbers along with the other kids.

We enrolled both girls in our local kindergarten program at age 5. The school suggested we apply for the district’s full-time gifted program, and we applied at the end of September. They both went through testing, and were accepted in January for the following fall. We would have to move schools, but the other school was only a ten-minute drive.  Although we noticed differences on their testing in math, we just figured that some kids are better at some subjects than others (and to be fair, this is true). H struggled some with basic addition and subtraction in kindergarten, but she didn’t seem to be behind most of the other kids.

The following fall, both girls started in the full-time GT program. The program was a grade accelerated, meaning they skipped first grade math and moved to second grade math, since many of them were already well into or past their knowledge of the second grade curriculum at the start of the year. H began to struggle more, becoming anxious about her math abilities, worried that it was taking her more time than the other kids. The teacher, who was new to GT teaching, was increasingly worried about her anxiety levels, and H’s inability to remember math concepts. H and her teacher started into daily struggles, which always ended in tears. We worked with her every day at home, trying to help her with remembering addition and subtraction facts. She would learn them one day, then forget them the next. At school, she developed a strong impostor syndrome, becoming convinced that she wasn’t smart enough to be in the class, and that she wasn’t really “gifted”. She spent the year watching helplessly as her signature joy drained away, her colorful personality leaching slowly out into grey. Her peers would remark – not always kindly – about her lack of math ability, and she tried to hide her deficiencies as best she could. She remained ahead of the class in reading and spelling, so she was advanced to the next grade, despite not being able to demonstrate competency in math. Her twin sister, without a learning disability, had already moved up another grade during the school year.

The next year, we discussed having the school place her in a regular class for math, while remaining in the GT class for the other subjects. However, since the second grade GT class was very math-focused, the teacher suggested having her pulled out for math individually, so she could work at her own level. We agreed, and for a while, things seemed to improve. H appeared to be learning more basic math when she was alone, away from the scrutiny of her peers. She was somewhat embarrassed to be leaving class during math time, but this was less than her discomfort of doing math with the class. I would ask her what she did during her individual time with the instructor, but she usually couldn’t remember; she did report that they used physical manipulatives frequently. We also worked with her at home, using manipulatives, several times a week. She remained joyless and anxious during school. Despite the individual instruction, by the end of the year, H remained unable to add or subtract without counting on her fingers, she could not read an analog clock or understand time, and she could not understand the concepts of multiplication and division. She also still could not tie her shoes.

It was around this time that we started to research difficulties with math learning, and it was only at this point – bringing together difficulties with time, counting, sequencing, and math skills – that we discovered the word dyscalculia, and the handful of websites out there with information on screening children and adults for math learning disabilities. H appeared to meet every criterion for a severe math learning disability, and for dyscalculia in particular. As a physician, I am aware of the perils of patients diagnosing themselves based on internet information, so I brought the information to her teacher. Her teacher had never heard of dyscalculia, but thought it was worth looking into.

We had H privately tested that summer. I’m not sure what was more jarring: seeing her well-above-grade-level reading and spelling scores, or her well below- grade-level math scores. The testing confirmed our initial suspicions about dyscalculia. We met with the school, requested a 504, and decided to have her move up another grade for everything but math, and then have her homeschool math with a tutor. She started working with the tutor over the summer, and continued throughout the next school year, every school day, one-on-one, for an hour. The tutor was patient, and had experience with both gifted kids and kids with learning disabilities. H made some good progress over the course of the year, and caught up to her age-appropriate grade level for math. The tutor was also a trained and licensed test administrator for the KeyMath assessment, and after testing Hannah, provided us some more hair-tearing news: Hannah was significantly behind grade level in a handful of areas, marginally behind in another handful…and gifted in a third handful. None of the three skill sets had the slightest thing to do with each other. (Of course).

Around this time, my daughter also read My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel. The book is her personal story of dyscalculia; it is a wonderfully written book, and H has re-read it countless times. She also began using an online math curriculum involving a great deal of repetition, which works well for her, and she really likes the online format. She can hold the information for longer periods of time, and she still needs tools – reminder sheets with math formulas, multiplication tables, and, of course, a calculator. On the upside, she can manipulate a calculator and a spreadsheet better than most adults. She can read a digital clock, and has started to understand the concept of time. Her math anxiety has significantly improved. Since we started full-time homeschooling, she is able to spend more of her time on the things she loves, and come easy for her: creative writing, reading, and art. She is our happy, joyous child again, no longer bound hourly by the constraints of her learning disability, but able to utilize her gifts as she sees fit.

We spend our mornings in the warm sun of the clearing, having no desire to hack back into the jungle. When the time comes that she needs to re-enter formal schooling (college?), she will have the tools she needs to navigate the maze with her natural grace and poise.

If our story describes your child, we urge you to ask a professional about dyscalculia. A math learning disability is more than being “bad at math”, and getting help early on makes a difference. Here are some web sites to get you started:

National Center for Learning Disabilities: What is Dyscalculia?


The Dyscalculia Forum

The Mathematical Brain

Nature.com: article on Dyscalculia


GHF Oct BLog Hop

We Are participating in the Gifted Homschoolers Forum October Blog Hop! The topic is: Homeschooling a Gifted/2e Child. Check out the other posts!


6 responses to this post.

  1. […] « 2e: A Dyscalculia Story […]


  2. […] A Dyscalculia Story and Aggressive Acceptance – Chasing Hollyfeld […]


  3. […] A Dyscalculia Story and Aggressive Acceptance – Chasing Hollyfeld […]


  4. Would you mind sharing which online math program has worked for your daughter? my 13 year old son is pg and yet his math skills are years below all else. He hasn’t been diagnosed with dyscalculia, but it is a lingering question in my mind.


    • Posted by Kathy on July 2, 2014 at 6:01 am

      She started out with Connections Academy courses, then moved onto Thinkwell (starting with 6th grade math). She also likes using Khan Academy. The key is the repetition – the ability to self-pace and re-watch the teaching videos over and over if needed.


  5. Posted by Becky on April 6, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    My daughter was diagnosed with mild dyscalculia this year. She too is well ahead in every subject except math. It’s so hard to watch them struggle, especially when they are used to just getting new concepts easily. We also started homeschooling this year and finally have gained some confidence back with math. We really like the Touch Math curriculum so far. The pages aren’t jumbled with tons of problems or busy.


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