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My Journey with Maths Difficulties


Natalia, shares her experience of how maths difficulties/ undiagnosed dyscalculia have impacted her life and work.

Natalia, shares her experience of how maths difficulties/ undiagnosed dyscalculia have impacted her life and work.

About me

Hello, My name is Natalia Middleton, I’m the Head of Food Education at a charity called Food Behind Bars. We work with prisons across the country to improve the food produced and eaten by the men and women in prison, alongside other food education and training.

I am a qualified chef, cookery teacher and I have a Criminology degree, so I fit pretty well into our small, but hardworking team.

I also have Maths difficulties which I believe to be Dyscalculia, although undiagnosed, it’s pretty clear that I have it. I just didn’t know there was a name for it until a few years ago when I Googled “Maths Dyslexia” which didn’t at all fit with what I was trying to workout in my head, but the words seemed to work on Google as it was the first time I saw the word “Dyscalculia”. I clicked on the first website link which happened to be for the British Dyslexia Association. Once I saw that word, I did some more digging and I found lists of “symptoms” or things people with Dyscalculia struggle with. I ticked every single box and still do. I did maths quizzes which would tell you your maths age – I did a lot of these and my age was always the same – that of a 9 or 10 year old.

I didn’t feel ashamed, because I have always known that I struggled with these things, but having these results glare back at you really makes it more real. My mother was told when I was in nursery that I couldn’t tell the difference between 10 counters and 100 counters which it turns out is one of the main indicators of Dyscalculia, but we didn’t know that at the time.

Maths at School

My parents decided that maths tutoring would be the best course of action during my school years and whilst they really meant well, it didn’t change my maths difficulties, no matter how hard I worked ( I had panic attacks and even nosebleeds before maths tests and exams!) I was really lucky that in my final year of high school I had a maths tutor who was patient and helped me get enough maths credits so I could apply for university. The only maths I “know” is the maths i’ve memorised and it’s also pretty basic stuff. It’s not just maths calculations that I’ve got difficulties with, it affects all aspects of my life.

Impact of maths difficulties

I get numbers, dates and times jumbled up or wrong, I have no understanding of how long something takes, so I have to set alarms and timers for everything, whether it’s cooking/baking or what time I need to leave the house. I find weighing and measuring things tricky – so it makes being a chef even more stressful! I can’t tell the time unless it’s in 12 hour format and digital, I find using maps hard and struggle with my left and right, I struggle with visualising numbers, reading graphs and spreadsheets or anything with lots of lines and I can’t understand patterns or sequences and please don’t get me started on board games!( this just names a few of the things I struggle with, the list is pretty long!!)

Having maths difficulties has always been a big part of my life. It stopped me applying for certain jobs that required me to take maths tests as part of them, as I knew I would fail even though I would have been really great at the role.

Why am I speaking about my maths difficulties now?

I’ve started speaking more openly about my maths difficulties in the last few years, especially since I started working in prisons, as so many people in prison also have maths difficulties or things like ADHD and Dyslexia and it seems more okay to talk about it in those spaces and for there to be more awareness in the first place.

I’ve found since talking about Dyscalculia and maths difficulties that so many other people either struggle too, have family members who do or had never heard of it before and are really glad to be aware of it.

I’m 32 years old and have struggled with maths difficulties all my life, I’m so proud of what I have been able to achieve despite the daily struggles I have. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of the way I am, in fact, I’m proud. I’ve found ways to cope and make things work for me, I’m proud to be empathetic towards others who also struggle, I’m proud of the job I do and that it teaches people new skills and helps others who may also be struggling.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

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