We Interrupt This Writing Blog to Talk About Learning Disabilities

Apparently, people don’t understand the learning disability I have. So here are a few facts.

It won’t be hard; I promise.

Image: Pixabay / zmescience.com

I have dyscalculia. It’s a bit like dyslexia, of which you may have heard, only with mathematics and numbers instead of reading and letters. People have it to varying degrees. Mine leans toward severe, enough to interfere with daily life and my ability to do certain kinds of jobs.

Symptoms vary (see the link), but some of mine include:

  • Can’t retain math processes. I struggled to grasp them and would forget them after being shown.
  • Can’t keep score during games. This is why I don’t do it when we go bowling, guys.
  • It’s hard to make change and handle money. Me and a cash drawer that has to be balanced do not get along.
  • I have trouble figuring how long something will take, or how much time is needed to get somewhere–I’m frequently either early or late.
  • Everyone who skated with me knows it took me ages to learn choreography. And, if we moved an ice show to the opposite rink after I’d already choreographed my program, it took a monumental effort to re-orient myself to the flipped setting. Since we never knew if this would happen, I coped by learning to choreograph in ways that didn’t depend so much on facing the audience. It got easier with time, though since I no longer skate, it’s irrelevant now.
  • I have a hard time recognizing patterns. In music school, I never learned key signatures despite daily drilling. Sight reading was a nightmare made flesh. If a composer inverted a chord, I could not read it. I just sidestepped and did everything by ear.
  • I can use Excel but not create a spreadsheet, because I don’t grasp the mathematics in formulas or how to apply them to a formula. You can’t use a calculator either if you don’t know what data to enter.
  • Division and fractions–nope. Word problems–nope. I don’t understand what processes to apply in a word problem. If you think you don’t do this in real life, just try to estimate mileage on a trip sometime.
  • If I don’t remember your name, I’m sorry; just keep reminding me until I remember. I will eventually. Sometimes I get it right off, sometimes not. But I won’t forget your face.
  • Never ask me to do math in my head. If I even could, it would take much longer than if you just whipped out your phone and used the calculator yourself.

It takes much, much longer to learn simple math equations. For more than twenty years, I carried a tip table in my wallet. I did finally learn how to figure percentages–by multiplying the amount times the percentage (after moving the decimal two places to the right)–but it took me that long to grasp it.

I can ONLY do it on a calculator and ONLY this way. If you tried to show me a different method, you would break my brain (just don’t). I can estimate a tip now. What a brilliant day when I finally threw that ragged old tip table in the bin!

Along with dyscalculia, I have a touch of dyspraxia as well. I have trouble with both fine and gross motor control. These conditions are often co-morbid, meaning they occur together.

  • I whack myself on all sorts of things. And trip. It’s hilarious.
  • I had a hell of a time with choreography when skating or dancing due to the dyscalculia, but I also had trouble actually performing certain movements or elements.
  • It took me ages to learn to whistle. Also, I could not blow a bubble with gum until well after my peers learned. My siblings made fun of me for this, but there was an actual, literal reason why I couldn’t.
  • Skating improved my balance, but I still often leaned too far over or not enough.
  • My handwriting starts out neat and gets bigger and less legible as I go.
  • Cross stitch is easy but learning to knit has been an ordeal, and I’ve given up on crochet.

In essence, I have a hidden disability. You can’t see it. You would only know if I told you.

Things not to say to someone with a learning disability:

But you don’t look like you have a learning problem!

Oh I’m sorry; is THIS what I’m supposed to look like?

You can do X; why can’t you do Y?

Because it doesn’t affect all my functions. Please don’t dismiss my explanation; I know my limitations and what I’m capable of much better than you because I’ve lived with it my entire life.

Oh, I have trouble with algebra (or calculus); I must have it too.

You can do calculus? That’s marvelous, because I don’t even know what it fecking is.

You’re just saying that to get out of doing X.

When I screw up your payroll, you’ll never say this to me again.

Oh, I could teach you!

If you are not a certified special education teacher or education therapist, I doubt it. I’ve worked with these folks and it didn’t help much. It probably needed to happen when I was a child.

Dyscalculia and dyspraxia are static conditions. This means I’m stuck with them for life. There will always be things I cannot do. I can never get a job with accounting or statistics. Although I love science, I can never do that kind of work. Despite many attempts, I was never able to learn to play the piano.

Especially not like this!

Image: YouTube

Early intervention might have resulted in a better outcome for me. However, at the time, educators remained unaware of these conditions and had even more trouble identifying them in an otherwise intelligent student, especially one who seemed gifted in other areas. Teachers frequently told me I was lazy, or unmotivated, or accused me of not liking math. Well yes, most people dislike things they can’t do.

But these issues don’t affect my intelligence. I regularly outperformed my peers in spelling, writing, and verbal ability tests. I read at a twelfth-grade level in second grade. I don’t have speech issues, which can occur with dyspraxia. I don’t have ADHD. I’m a whiz at writing procedural documents–I’ve had to develop this skill in order to learn sequential processes I need to do at work. I can write novels.

I’m not just my disability. Nobody is.

——————–

Read more:

What Is an Invisible Disability?

Early Intervention: What It Is and How It Works

Support and Resources for Adults with LD — Learning Disabilities Association of America

It’s Time for Sexual Assault Survivors, Including Me, to Name Names

The recent flood of sexual assault revelations from numerous victims regarding known predators and once-cherished idols in politics and entertainment have been hard for me. I was disappointed and grieved when Scott Brunton came forward to accuse George Takei. And just today, Senator Al Franken’s past caught up with him.

I’ve loved George ever since I first saw Star Trek as a young child. I’ve stood steadfastly behind his efforts to secure equality for my LGBTQ loved ones and to present the story of the Japanese internment of WWII through the Allegiance musical.  I cheered when he was finally able to marry the man he loved, husband Brad Takei.

I bought a ticket to the December 7 showing of Allegiance in the cinema before all this emerged. It would be my third viewing. I’m torn. I hate to cancel because I loved this musical. The entire cast did phenomenal work, and the music is wonderful. Should I again shed tears in the theater, however, there may be added subtext this time.

And Al? Saturday Night Live Al? Our champion in the decaying halls of a wolfish Congress bent on devouring our democracy? Sadly, he is all too human.

I can’t stay silent any longer.

Why is this so hard? Because I too am a survivor. My first perpetrator was a director at the Christian summer camp I attended while I was in high school. One day, while we all sat in the dining hall listening to announcements, he groped me.

I remember it like it happened yesterday. The shift of the picnic table bench as his weight settled behind me. My peripheral awareness of his presence—of no consequence, not yet. The light touch under my arm, and the sudden pressure of his fingers on the side of my breast. The sense of shock, of feeling frozen, unable to move or indicate to anybody what was happening to me.

His wife and young daughter had accompanied him to camp. I remember standing in front of them in a group not long after, wondering, Why? Why did he do this? Am I the only one? And, for one surging, tormented moment, What would happen if I spoke up now, in front of everyone, in front of his wife? I ultimately decided I would not. The realization of how things really were sunk deep into me—he had power and I did not. No one would believe me.

Over the years, I’ve tried to make sense of it. I’ve wondered if I misunderstood. I’ve come to the conclusion that I did not. It wasn’t a quiet touch on the shoulder from an affectionate mentor. Nor was it invited or encouraged. It forever shattered my tenuous illusion of safety regarding adults and authority figures. From that day forward, no report of sexual impropriety regarding any teacher, church leader, or public figure ever truly surprised me again. I knew the ugly truth.

His name was James Greene. We campers called him Jimmy. To my knowledge, nobody saw what he did that day in 1982. As far as I know, he’s still alive and probably doesn’t even remember it. Or maybe he does but he just doesn’t care. Or worse, mired in a twisted hypocritical version of Christian faith like so many people these days, he wouldn’t see anything wrong with it. After all, I had technically reached the age of consent.

But I didn’t consent. He had no reason to do what he did, and yet he did it anyway.

At college, I was raped by a fellow student named Doug Botham. He did not take my resistance seriously and traumatized me so severely that I blocked out the incident for an entire year. I’ve written about this one before, but until now, I didn’t name my attacker. It left me with lasting effects that I’ve worked hard to overcome but which still haunt me even today.

I didn’t consent. I said no, I don’t want to, and he did not stop.

I’ve no idea what became of Doug. Most likely, he too has forgotten. Many men like him don’t even realize they’re rapists. Our culture allows it. The same camp where Jimmy assaulted me later harbored another predator, who is now in prison for his crimes. They were apparently sued over it. They’re still operating, still emphasizing their religious ethic. And so the cycle continues.

I fought long and hard with myself over publishing this post. The bar is still much higher for sexual assault and rape victims than for their perpetrators. But I’ve held these feelings inside, covered these men’s names and my wounds, for too long. The time has come.

I harbor no desire for compensation or revenge. An apology? If I were Scott Brunton, that’s what I would want. Not an I’m sorry you feel that way, not the braggadocio of Louis C.K.’s excuses, but a real, heartfelt I did it, it was wrong, and I regret it. And I am sorry.

I’d like that too. Though if even a few people examine their deeds and their consciences, if it stops even one from offending again, I will be content.

We’re facing a true cultural shift here, one long overdue. For years, we’ve scoffed at victims and played sexual assault for laughs. Prison rape, men chasing scantily clad women around the room, jokes about secretaries and the Hollywood casting couch.

The victims who sat watching and silently suffering, too afraid to come forward for fear of ridicule or persecution, were not laughing. Even if we pretended not to take it seriously, inside we experienced trauma all over again. It’s past time we exposed harassment and exploitation for what they truly are. We need to put an end to rape culture so the women and men who have been so deeply wounded and betrayed can finally heal.

The sick disappointment, the disillusionment, as these incidents come to light, is exhausting and triggering. It breaks my heart to think that men I looked up to could ever have done something like this. None of us are perfect. We all experience lapses in judgment, some of them grave. I know also that fame can draw people who seek to manipulate and exploit. But most assault victims have nothing to gain and everything to lose by coming forward. They rarely lie.

Everyone loved Jimmy. Everyone loved George. We all loved Al. I must give the accusers of these men the benefit of the doubt. I can’t do any less because I wouldn’t want anyone to do any less for me.

I dont work in Hollywood. I’m just a writer with several unpublished novels to my name. I don’t have many followers and not a lot of reach. I’m not an activist or an influencer. I deal in words, and I want to use them to speak the truth for those who can’t.

To all survivors reading this, I believe you. I’m not alone and neither are you. You are strong. We are strong. This will never happen to me again, because I won’t let it. And I will fight like hell see that those who harmed us are held accountable.

Even if it’s someone I trusted.

———-

If you need to talk, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673.

More resources at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-8255.  UK: Call Samaritans 116 123 (free call).

Learn more about rape and sexual assault at RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

NaNoWriMo 2017 Update

Hey all, I’m still around and still working on Book 2. I’ve gotten behind on my word count due to a nasty, vicious cold, and I’ve been unable to write for a few days. It started with the sore throat from Hell and has now progressed to sneezing and coughing.

Basically me trying to do anything since Wednesday.

Image: spongebob.wikia.com

I decided not to post here every day, just in case I suddenly find a job, so I’d have a little breathing room. (Nothing yet; I did have an interview so fingers crossed.)

However, if you noticed, I’ve posted updates on the word counter at the top left of my home page. I’m up to 9,285 words.  A dismal count by NaNoWriMo standards, though it’s actually not going too badly. My first draft sucks, but they all do. Yes, I am cheating–I did take some prewritten bits and work around them. You know me. I never do anything quite the way I’m supposed to.

I’m tricksy like that.

Image: movieweb.com

I’m feeling better today. I’ve taken this time to work on improving my first pages in Tunerville and tidying up my post-edit revision. Meanwhile, my Wolverine-like healing powers have begun to work on this cold.

I will keep you up to date. *HACK* to work!