Alumni | The SPU Voices Podcast

“Discovering Dyscalculia,” with Laura M. Jackson ’02

Amanda Stubbert: Welcome to the SPU Voices Podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert, and today we sat down with Laura Jackson. In her new book, Discovering Dyscalculia, she writes about her child’s struggle with numbers, their shared discovery of dyscalculia, and her family’s journey supporting their daughter in school and in life. Though dyscalculia impacts about one in every 20 children and adults, it’s not widely recognized or understood. This math learning disability not only affects individuals in educational settings, but also impacts their everyday life when it comes to handling money, telling time, measuring quantities, and performing basic calculations. Perhaps you’ll recognize yourself or someone you know in our interview today. Laura, thank you so much for joining us.

Laura Jackson: Thank you for having me, Amanda. Happy to be here.

Amanda: Well, let’s just start at the beginning, because I know in our pre-interview, you had to teach me even how to say dyscalculia. Hopefully I’m doing that correctly.

Laura: You’re doing really well.

Amanda: Oh, yay. Thank you. Okay. So start at the beginning. What is dyscalculia?

Laura: Yes. So dyscalculia is a specific learning disability with an impairment in math. That’s the long term you might recognize on someone’s school evaluation or private evaluation. But it is a learning disability. If you’re familiar with dyslexia, it’s similar in that it impacts an individual’s entire life, not just learning in school. So it’s a neurological difference. So it’s a difference in the brain wiring. People are most often born with it. And it impacts about 5% of the population. So that’s one in every 20 people you know are dyscalculic, although they likely are not aware that they have dyscalculia. And so dyscalculia, if you think about dyslexia being a struggle with language, dyscalculia is a struggle with numbers and quantities and having a sense of numbers and being able to then work with numbers and quantities in calculating.

Amanda: Now when we talked earlier, you gave this what I thought was a fabulous example of being colorblind. Because I think a lot of times with my own children, when they’re struggling with a math concept, it feels like work harder, work more, drill more, use those flashcards. And yet, if you’re colorblind, you can have flashcards all day, every day, you’re never going to see the red or whatever it is. And I love that idea of understanding like, oh, this is not how my brain works. No amount of flashcards is going to help.

Laura: Yes. I love that example too. I think I first heard that example from Brian Butterworth, who’s a dyscalculia expert in the UK. And he explained that it’s similar to being colorblind in that you basically don’t have a sense for numbers. So yeah, no matter how many flashcards you do or any …. We just got to work more on that or more practice. That actually only further ingrains in a dyscalculic where they feel that they’re dumb or incapable of learning. And we’re missing that their experience with numbers is just completely different than if you’re not dyscalculic. So yes, I also love that example.

Amanda: Yeah. So I’m not colorblind, so I can guess or someone can give me an analogy of someone who’s colorblind, what they see. Is it black and white? Is it sepia tone? Can you give us an example of someone who’s dyscalculic, how they are experiencing the numbers and the quantities that’s different from those of us who don’t deal with it?

Laura: Yeah. So some of the problem would be recognizing the numeral, the number, say number 5, and having that hold the same meaning. So the main issue for dyscalculic is they don’t understand that numbers are their own entity as a group. So 5 is its own thing and that 5 has a relationship with the other numbers because it may have one or more, less or more, and it’s made of other groups of numbers. It’s almost hard to explain because if you’re not dyscalculic, you just innately know these things about numbers. But when you’re dyscalculic, you don’t. And so the very things that other people just automatically know, that 6 is a group of five and one more, they don’t necessarily understand that. They can learn it, they absolutely can learn it, but they learn it in ways that aren’t usually taught in school. And so often it’s just skipped over.

“[T]he very things that other people just automatically know, that 6 is a group of five and one more, they don’t necessarily understand that. They can learn it, they absolutely can learn it, but they learn it in ways that aren’t usually taught in school. And so often it’s just skipped over.”

The other things that they might not understand are … Really, if you imagine everything just connected with numbers, so telling time on a clock … We wonder, oh, they just haven’t learned the right technique. Well, telling time on a clock is so confusing because there’s so many different sets of numbers. There’s 12 and there’s 24 and there’s 60 seconds in a minute. So you got all these groupings that already are confusing, and then you’re asked to figure out how those groupings work together and get a time with that. So not only just reading a clock, but then what if someone says, oh, well, in 20 minutes we’re going to go do this activity. Well, then you have to figure out what is a group of 20 and how would you add that onto this thing that you’re looking at on the clock. So it makes so many things very complicated when you don’t have a sense of what those numbers are and what they mean.

We’ll see people, they’ll switch numbers. And that’s because you don’t really have a sense of what that number is. I remember my daughter, we were talking about the number 12 at some point. I can’t remember where we saw it. But she was like, oh, she’s like, I didn’t even see that it was 12. I saw one and I saw two. So little things like that, it’s just going to impact their entire sense of number.

Amanda: Anytime you see something, it’s almost cultural. When you see things very differently, it can be so hard to explain. I just recently came back from a country where I don’t speak the language. And it becomes so obvious, like if you hold up a glass of water and point to it and you’re saying to the server, I want more water, what are you pointing to? Is there something wrong with your glass of water? Do you want a glass of something else? Do you want more? You know what I’m saying? What seems easy when you’re all on the same page, when you’re not, it becomes infinitely tricky. So I can imagine not only is it so difficult for those going through this or dealing with this, but when no one understands that’s what you’re going through, you must start to feel like it’s me, I’m just stupid.

Laura: Yes. Since we’re on this analogy track, it’s like they are somewhere, like you said, that is speaking a different language. But say you’re in the classroom, the teacher is assuming that you speak the same language, the math language, as everyone else, but you don’t. So you hide it. You are afraid that it’s not a matter of just like, oh well, I don’t know this language and everybody knows it and I’m learning it. It’s like the feeling is you should already know this language because we all do.

Amanda: And there’s something wrong with you if you don’t.

Laura: Yeah. There’s something wrong with you.

Amanda: The analogy for my own life, I’ll just get a little personal, I’m a terrible speller. And when I was a kid in school, I was so aware of it. And I could do great in vocabulary, but you had to graduate from the spelling tests to get to vocabulary and I couldn’t get there because I could never get enough words right in a row to let me graduate. And it just ingrains this idea that you’re just not as good as everyone around you at this very basic skill.

Laura: Yes. And we’ll probably get into that. But that was one of the early signs with my own daughter, was in third grade, she was coming home and asking me, ‘Mom, am I stupid?’ And here she is, like a very bright, very articulate girl, loves school, loves learning. But she was struggling in math class, couldn’t finish the worksheets that they did in the class. And they had a no homework policy, but they would come home because she wasn’t doing the work in class. And the multiplication tables, she watched all her friends being able to slowly learn them over weeks and weeks and she couldn’t get past the one times tables. So naturally, she’s wondering what is wrong with me?

And she was trying so hard. We were doing all the things, the pullout math, the flashcards at home, with a lot of tears. The teacher’s reporting to me, ‘Your daughter’s working 10 times as hard as the other students and not getting this.’ So what is that natural assumption? It is, something’s wrong with me. And at that point, I wish I had known about dyscalculia so I could say there’s nothing wrong. I’m sure I said that anyway, but I didn’t know what is wrong.

“The teacher’s reporting to me, ‘Your daughter’s working 10 times as hard as the other students and not getting this.’ So what is that natural assumption? It is, something’s wrong with me. And at that point, I wish I had known about dyscalculia so I could say there’s nothing wrong. I’m sure I said that anyway, but I didn’t know what is wrong.”

Amanda: Right. When you can’t answer the question, a mom’s saying, no, you’re fine, doesn’t help very much. You go, well, you’re my mom, you have to say that.

Laura: Yeah. Yeah.

Amanda: So let’s get into that. So your daughter’s a great student other than math, she’s coming home each progressive year, it’s getting worse. Take the story from there.

Laura: Yeah. So that was in third grade. And she had actually been receiving extra help at school starting in first grade. But that didn’t really concern me very much because I know students learn at different paces. So I wasn’t concerned until it really was in third grade where I thought, gosh, what is going on? This doesn’t seem to match up. And why are these extra helps not doing anything? So at that point, I tried to talk to the school about it. And the assumption that a lot of parents make, and I was just talking with another parent the other week, actually, is that if something is wrong, the school will let you know. And that is a common idea. But the problem is the public schools are so tied and limited on what they can say and can’t say and what they can suggest. So while I was assuming they would let me know if something was wrong, that wasn’t the case.

And so they were like, well, let’s just see how another year goes. This what I call the wait-and-see plan, which is never a good idea when it comes to learning differences. So eventually, that was a long story, but I do talk about it in the book, detail it out, but we were able to get her tested at school and tested privately and find out she was dyscalculic. And we also found out she was what’s becoming known as 2E or twice exceptional, which means she was on two ends of the spectrum. She had these off-the-charts like gifts and talents, ways that her brain worked. And then she had this struggle with math. She’s down in the three percentile on a bunch of things for subtraction and division. So it was a real unique mix to find out about her. And I thought at that point, oh, this is great.

So now we have our evaluation and now we’ll just get her an IEP in school and she’ll be off to the races. But the problem was that still nobody understood or knew about what it meant to have a math learning disability. There were math helps at the school, but they weren’t working and there wasn’t an understanding of what dyscalculia really was. And it was just treated as, oh, well, this person just needs more help or they need the material slower or more of it or more time. And those were just really inadequate for what she needed. So after two years of having an IEP in school, I was just reading everything I could find on dyscalculia. And at first it was really lonely because I couldn’t figure out why nobody else was talking about it. Why weren’t there more parent blog sites? I was googling for them.

And why wasn’t there any books besides these technical researcher or educational books? I found a couple memoirs on it and those were helpful, but I was just like, where is all the information? And so I was just reading everything I could, listening to everything, buying books off of Amazon because the library didn’t have them and really just became self-taught on the topic. And so in our third year of an IEP at school, she was starting in again, and it was going to be another year of not learning anything. And at that point, I thought, she’s in sixth grade, we cannot keep going forward like this.

Amanda: Yeah. Your time’s running out, you can’t wait any longer.

Laura: Time is running out. And I am not a school teacher by trade. But I had found some curriculum coming out of the UK and I thought, we’re going to figure this out together. So fortunately, in Washington State, you can partially homeschool your child. So we did math at home every morning and then I would take her to school right after that for the rest of the school day. And we did that for three years. Now, one of those years was the pandemic year, so seventh grade was all online or home. But we just started learning together and figuring out what worked. How she described it to her friends when she was asked once was, she said, ‘I basically relearned everything from kindergarten up in a way that makes sense to my mind.’ So we were just working on filling in those gaps and learning as we went along.

Amanda: I can imagine that would’ve just been such a huge relief to her after so many years of thinking there’s something terribly wrong with me. It’s like, well, there might be something different about me, but I finally have a way to move forward. My assumption is she would just be soaking up all the math. Is that what happened?

Laura: Well, yeah. One of the things we discovered in her valuation is she has really high problem-solving, critical-thinking skills. So yeah, having something explained in a different way, we were using hands-on materials, and there was so many ah-ha moments. I just remember one day working with … We were building numbers with these physical objects. We were treating it as like it was a code. These are code signs of these different numbers. And she got stuck at one point. She was like, how would I make 11, 12, 13? And she just sat there a minute and she’s like, oh my gosh. She’s like, the 10 is an orange … this orange rod that we use called Cuisenaire Rods. And she’s like, the dot pattern is this. And so she just was like, oh my gosh, there is a 10 in every one of these teen numbers. And here she is in sixth grade for the first time realizing that.

“We were building numbers with these physical objects. We were treating it as like it was a code. These are code signs of these different numbers. And she got stuck at one point. She was like, how would I make 11, 12, 13? And she just sat there a minute and she’s like, oh my gosh. She’s like, the 10 is an orange … this orange rod that we use called Cuisenaire Rods. And she’s like, the dot pattern is this. And so she just was like, oh my gosh, there is a 10 in every one of these teen numbers. And here she is in sixth grade for the first time realizing that.”

And it was so exciting and mind blowing. And I remember shortly into teaching, she was excited to sit down and do math in the morning and bummed if for some reason we didn’t do it. And that was so surprising to me because I thought, I’m not a great … I just had so many insecurities about being a mom and teaching something that was my least favorite subject.

Amanda: Well, I think just about every mom on the planet, when your kid is struggling, the first person you blame is yourself. It’s not even the kid usually, it’s you. And so to say, oh my gosh, I finally have the tool that’s going to work.

Laura: Yeah. It was pretty awesome. And we tried to approach it, like we’re learning this together, which took some of the pressure off me. But it was pretty great to find some things. And it wasn’t all just smooth sailing. We had to get help along the way. We found different tutors, we found different centers that would give us advice on what to use next. And there were a lot of frustrating days too where she would just be like, oh, why can’t I get this? One of the things with dyscalculia is the memory capacity for numbers is really, really low. So you have to really limit what’s memorized, which is very different than how most of us are taught math.

Amanda: Right. That everything up to algebra, you should just know like the back of your hand. You should have to do the work. Although, I’m sorry, I think a lot of us still do math in our heads. I’m just going to say, I think a lot of us still go, oh, there’s a 10 in there and this da-da da-da. I think we all do little shortcuts in our head. I don’t think we all have the entire times table memorized. Maybe it’s just me.

Laura: Yeah. And especially if you’re dyscalculic, you definitely are not. But it would be frustrating sometimes too because she would learn something and really get excited about it one day and maybe we might even work on it for three days. And the fourth day, we sit down to do it, and it’s like she’s never seen this before. So when we first started noticing that, that was pretty discouraging for both of us. And it took us a while until we would just have the language to be like, you know what … She would say, ‘Is that my dyscalculia again?’ Like as if it was like this entity outside of her. Is that my dyscalculia again? Then we just had a lot more understanding for it and we could be like, yes. So we would do something else or just not put so much pressure on ourselves.

Amanda: Well, I’m not a child psychologist, but the idea of putting something outside of yourself seems so healthy. If for so many formative years, you’re thinking, I’m so stupid because I can’t do this, to be able to say, oh, this isn’t me, this is that. And if I keep working, I now have the keys to move forward. That’s pretty empowering I think.

Laura: Yeah. Yeah, I think so too.

Amanda: And so is this the time where you started writing your blog?

Laura: Yeah, it was that year. I started writing for a couple different reasons. One was I had started working through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and she was an advocate for writing every day. So I was starting to write my, what’s called the morning pages every day. And the blog was an extension of that, of just writing down our journey, the things that were happening. So one, it was for myself to process our experience. And then two, I thought, we cannot be the only ones that are out there. And so if I am Googling parent blogs on dyscalculia and not finding anything, there’s got to be other parents who are also looking for information. And so maybe I could just start sharing what I’m learning as we go along.

And it wasn’t a lot at first, but I thought, well, maybe I could just create that thing that I couldn’t find for myself. And it was, I don’t know, maybe six months in, I got an email from GHF Press, a small press company, and they said, ‘We found your blog and we wondered if you would be willing to write a book on this topic.’ And I thought, oh my gosh, what? That’s crazy. But also in The Artist’s Way, she talks about synchronicity of just things falling into place and paying attention to when they happen and taking advantage. So I thought someone is sitting here offering to give me an editor and help me write the story down. I should not listen to fear and just go for it. So, I said yes. And that’s what brought the book about. So that was just published last February.

Amanda: And between the blog and the book, I hear you are now contacted by people all over the world who see in you exactly what you were looking for when you started this journey.

Laura: That’s the most surprising thing is the emails literally every week from around the world. It’s very humbling. But what happens is it’s just starting, I’m just starting that conversation. And people are out there, they’ve either been diagnosed and they don’t know what the heck this is. Or they’re like me and their student is just struggling and they’re Googling math struggles and wondering what’s going on. I also have a lot of adults contacting me who are just realizing that they’ve either been diagnosed and they’ve just found out that they’re dyscalculic or they are suddenly seeing all the signs and symptoms of dyscalculia and being like, wow, that’s me. My whole life, I just thought I was stupid or incapable of learning math. But that’s really rewarding. I love getting those emails. I love hearing that the book really resonates with people. My people tell me they just read it in a day or two, and that tells me.

Yeah, I guess I wasn’t too boring. That’s good. I love stories. And so there’s a lot of just personal stories in it. And when people resonate with that, it just reminds me, oh, I’m so glad I put our story out there just because so many other people are having a similar struggle.

Amanda: Well, and when you say one in 20, that is a lot of people.

Laura: Yeah.

Amanda: Yes. I won’t even go into the how or the way. But the short story is right after we had our pre-interview talking about your book, I was with a friend and she made some comment about, well, you better doublecheck that because I’m such an idiot with math. And I said, I think I have a book for you to read. And she got so excited about the fact that this even existed and there might be an answer. And I was reminded immediately in that moment of my conversation with her, of the conversation with your daughter with, when she would say, that’s my dyscalculia. What a relief to be able to name that and put it over there versus, I’m just an idiot because everyone else can do this and I can’t.

Laura: I know. You said relief, I would say so many … I mean, in our own journey, relief. And also just a little befuddling because it just takes everything you thought and turns it on its head. Suddenly, all these ideas that you’ve created over the years, whoa, those might not be accurate. And, actually, we found out with our daughter, she’s highly intelligent. So what is all this belief we have on what we think equates intelligence?

Amanda: Well, there’s the old school idea of street smarts versus book smarts. And yet, of course, there’s a million different ways to look at it, a million different ways to be intelligent about specific things. I’m the youngest of four and all my siblings are very, very intelligent. And in a way that I am not musicians and could do lots and lots of math. And that wasn’t my strength. And so I think you just spend so much of your childhood comparing yourself, that’s what childhood is. You’re bouncing off of other people. Am I normal? Is this correct? And when you grow up with this idea that I don’t fit or I can’t do this, it affects so many things beyond the math.

Laura: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. It does.

Amanda: I can just imagine as a mom, when your daughter came home and said, ‘Mom, am I my stupid?’ How did that feel?

Laura: That was so confusing to me because I looked at her and I could tell she was not stupid. She was so creative, so articulate, so … cool. Such a cool kid. I think what is a big deal for me is, yeah, so I was able to see that about my kid, but there are so many kids who don’t have families that can say you’re not stupid and we’re going to get through this. And so their parents may think, yeah, this kid is dumb. They can’t do numbers and no matter how much tutoring we get, they can’t solve it. And well, they’re just going to have to be limited on what they do for career. So being able to raise that awareness so that people can realize, no, this is a brain-wiring difference and this isn’t because they aren’t trying hard enough.

This isn’t because they need to work harder or work faster, that we need to realize how they see things and also then support them in the way they can learn. I think a lot of us, or at least at the schools, are so strapped with how they can teach. They just don’t have capacity also. And I realized that in our own story, that is a real privilege that I was able to spend the mornings to help her. And that’s not something that’s available to everyone. And so we were able to find a workaround, but there’s so many who can’t find those workarounds. And so our schools need to be able to identify and see those learners and teach them in a way that they can grasp and understand numbers for the way they’re wired. Just like how we are in our schools finally finding some ways to support dyslexics, and we’re letting them use audio material or speech to text. And there’s ways that they don’t have to be held back for their learning differences. So, similarly, we need that for people who are dyscalculic.

Amanda: And I’ve heard you talk about education needs to catch up, that there just aren’t enough places that are even teaching teachers how to deal with dyscalculia.

Laura: Yeah. They say the research on dyscalculia, excuse me, is about 30 years behind that of dyslexia. And some feel it might be catching up. There’s a lot more coming out right now, a lot more interest. But even for dyslexia, there’s not a lot of amazing resources. For dyscalculia, yeah, it’s even further behind and there’s a lot of different reasons for that. I hope that will change. One, so there’s more research done. And then two, so there’s more awareness. And then teachers will be better equipped to teach for that. Brian Butterworth, he’s the one I mentioned, who’s a professor emeritus at the University College, London. In some of his work, he talks about it as the virtuous or the vicious triangle, that we need more awareness, more research, and more changes in our government and educational policies. And a little bit of movement in any of these triangles will spur on other changes if we —

Amanda: It has to start somewhere, right?

Laura: Yes, exactly. If we have more people who are aware, who are saying, we need this help, this support, then you have more money sent to research. And if you have more research, then you have schools that are more trained to be able … So it’s just any of those will spur on the others.

Amanda: Yeah. And here you are, unbeknownst to you, a part of that with your book and your blog and getting that information out to other people. You had told me a story about meeting with someone who showed up with your book in hand. Can you tell us that story?

Laura: Yeah. That’s so funny. Dr. Schreuder is with Dyscalculia Services in Texas, and she was nearby last year in the Seattle area. And so she emailed me, and we had never met, but she asked if we could have coffee. And I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to meet and talk about dyscalculia with someone. It’s really hard to find people to talk with about it and nerd out over it. So we met up for coffee. And she showed up and she had my book and it was covered in green post-it notes, the whole thing. That was such a weird feeling. She’s an expert, she has a tutoring practice, she’s done all this work, and here she was really excited about my book. So that was humbling. Since then, we’ve become colleagues and friends, and it’s really nice to have other people to chat about dyscalculia.

Amanda: I just have to ask because I know it can be a strange mixed emotion, but when an expert in a field, the very person you were dying to find when your daughter was first diagnosed that you couldn’t find, and now here you are, that person, for an expert. How does that feel?

Laura: Yeah, I probably haven’t really taken that in. I don’t really think —

Amanda: You’re processing.

Laura: Yeah. People will say that, friends will say, oh, you’re the expert in this. And that’s hard for me to take in. So I don’t think of myself as that yet. Maybe I will someday. But right now, how I see myself is I’m this parent and I’m on this journey and I’m just a little bit probably … I’m six years in. So I got six years of research and helping my kid and finding resources. So I’m just a little more ahead of the journey. So I like to think of myself as just more of a, I’m in this right now, I just might be a little bit further along and might have a few things that would be helpful. It’s all still ongoing. My daughter’s in high school this year and we are navigating public school, 504s and IEPs, and how do you graduate with dyscalculia when no one even knows about it?

So we’re in it. She’s going to be driving soon and dyscalculia really impacts one’s ability, directional sense and numbers. And so driving is very frightening for most dyscalculics. So I’m in it. This is our process. And also I’m in that process of how do I support my daughter so that she’s become a really good advocate for herself. And so a lot more of that parenting of being here as a support, but also letting her move forward and doing her own advocacy at school with friends.

Amanda: Because she’s going to get to that place. She’s going to go to college and she’s going to need to navigate that without calling you one day. And that’s all of us face that. All of us as parents are trying to do that. We just don’t necessarily have this one specific issue to focus on.

Laura: Yes. It’s funny. In fact this last weekend, she was participating in the Audubon Bird Count. Even that, dyscalculia impacts your ability to estimate. So we were talking on our drive to drop her off at the Audubon count, and she was saying, ‘I’ll need to let the group know that if we see a flock of birds in the sky, we need to estimate how many there are, that I won’t be able to help with that.’ She’s like, ‘I’m really good at identifying the birds, but I won’t be able to see the quantity and know how many there are.’ And that’s just part of dyscalculia is trouble estimating quantities and being able to see an amount, even a small amount, and know how many there are. So yeah, everyday impact. And it’s really important for her to be able to advocate for herself, know that about herself, and then advocate and let them know what she’ll need help with.

Amanda: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s good. That confidence of just knowing, like we keep saying, of knowing this is a thing which I can explain to others and overcome is so much different than walking and feeling like any minute now, I’m going to be asked to do something I can’t possibly do. That’s just a whole different way of looking at a scenario. Yeah. What’s next for you as your daughter grows up and college is on the horizon?

Laura: Oh, I feel like I’m just getting started with this dyscalculia bit. I ended up quitting my job as a real estate assistant, and I’m just doing this work with dyscalculia full time. So I have all kinds of dreams. I do lead a parent workshop right now, and I’ve created a workshop for teachers. But I just have so many ideas of different resources for adults, for students, for parents, teachers. And so I’m just in the middle of creating and writing, and I don’t know, maybe there’ll be another book. So I feel like I’m just at the beginning. Even though my daughter is getting older, I just feel like this is such an area where … Here’s a group of people that are not represented, not supported, and who need someone who understands what that’s like. And I’m not dyscalculic myself, but I find myself thinking like a dyscalculic. Everywhere I go, we’ll be out, and I’ll think to myself, that would be really complicated if I was dyscalculic.

I just can’t help it. And when I’m working with a school and they’ll say, they’re not able to work on this number chart to find the answers. And it’s like, I know why, and I can tell you why that particular thing is not making sense. And so I just feel really passionate about this. And it’s a big deal because, I believe it was in 2016 or 2017, there was some research done in the US on our prison system. And it came back that a quarter of the people in our prisons had at one point been in special education. And that’s just people who are identified as having some sort of learning or behavioral difference. And what that tells me is they did not receive the support, the belief, the understanding that they needed as a student, and it impacted their life choices and their life opportunities.

And so it is a big deal if we do or do not recognize whether someone is dyscalculic. It impacts how they see themselves, how we see them, the things that they pursue for jobs. And right now, it’s very discouraging because I hear from so many adults, they have felt like they didn’t have options growing up because of this. And then once in a while, I’ll come across someone who … I just was at a party the other night and this elderly gentleman, he had been talking with my husband about dyscalculia. And so he came up to me and he was just very full of life. And he said, “I definitely am dyscalculic.” And he’s like, “But my parents, they said, ‘Forget that. That doesn’t matter at all. You are a bright kid.’” And so he was not held back in life. And so just that simple mindset of how his parents approached it is so different than some of the adults who come across who I’ve met, ones where they haven’t pursued careers that they were interested in.

We have a friend who doesn’t do some hobbies because they involve measuring and numbers and things that terrify him. So really just the awareness and the mindset, it’s a big deal. It impacts someone’s entire future really. So yeah, what’s next? I’m all in on raising awareness and finding ways to shift how we think about it and finding resources for this group.

Amanda: So I have to ask because I’m quite certain that there are people who are listening to this podcast that either five minutes in they said, this is me. I finally have an answer, however many years later. Or a parent that’s saying, oh my goodness, this might be my kid. What would you give them as their first step besides reading your book? Or maybe that’s it.

Laura: No, my book is helpful. I would also say that little blog has turned into a quite robust website. So I am adding to it every week. And I now have sections on there for students, for adults, for teachers, for parents. So I would just go look around. It’s And if that is a spelling nightmare for you, you can also go to I figured that was easier for people. But look around on there, because I have just free downloads and there’s lists and things that you can … I have a newsletter, a very active monthly newsletter. So there’s just all kinds of great information. It’s a hub of information on there. There’s a bunch of different speaking events that are free on there as well. So I would go there first. And I respond to all my emails that I get on the website. It might take me a little while, but I will also reply to you if you’re looking for something particular and send you in the right direction.

Amanda: Well, Laura, that’s just fantastic. I’m sure you don’t even know how many lives you’ve touched. And like you said, this is just the beginning. This feels like it could be a lifelong journey for you and for your family. So let’s wrap up with our famous last question. If you could have everyone in Seattle do one thing differently tomorrow that would make the world a better place, what would you have us all do?

Laura: Well, hopefully this podcast, you’re already starting. Because what I wrote down was, become just a little more aware and curious about dyscalculia and how it may impact one in every 20 people you know. If you want to read some good books on my website, there’s a list of … It’s a free download of my favorite books. I’ve read a lot, and I just put my favorite ones on there. I think also on the website is just becoming familiar with those signs and those symptoms. We talked about some of them today on my website, there’s a list of more. But as you come across people and they are having troubles, instead of thinking, gosh, they’re terrible with numbers, you may have new empathy and new understanding for them. I was at Les Schwab getting tires recently, and a man was up at the counter and the lady said, ‘What’s your phone number?’ Because they asked you for your phone number to access your account. And the man said, ‘I’ll need to look that up.’ And the lady behind the counter looked at him like …

Amanda: Like you’re crazy. Yeah. Are you sure that’s your phone number? Yeah.

Laura: Yeah. But I thought to myself, I bet this guy’s dyscalculic, because remembering a number sequence is a nightmare when you’re dyscalculic. And he just doesn’t have that number sequence memorized. So if we could all be a little more aware of those differences, then instead of looking at him like the lady did behind the counter, you’re just like, okay, yeah, no problem, look that up.

Amanda: Yeah. Yeah. What a joy. What a joy it must be to bring that hope to people, people who have just thought there is no hope in this area for me. And for you to say, oh look, here it is. Here is some hope. That’s got to be pretty amazing. Is that what keeps you going in this work?

Laura: Yes, it does. It’s the personal stories of hearing from people that it matters and that it has changed how they see themselves and others like them. If you just think, ah, she’s just working with math learning disability, that sounds so boring. But when I think about, I’m working towards basically better mental health and having people feel understood and seen, and to have such a more positive outlook of who they are and their abilities, that will get me up in the morning and get me writing and recording and doing all the things. Yes.

Amanda: Yeah. Yeah. Well, bless you. What great work you’re doing. And I know a lot of us moms out there feel like they’ve been thrown into things that they didn’t actually sign up for. Congratulations. I don’t know what else to say besides congratulations on choosing to dive in and just taking it on and doing such an amazing job. I know you’ve been a huge help to so many people. So remember, or laurajackson, right?

Laura: Lauram. There’s an m.

Amanda: Sorry. Lauram.

Laura: If you go to Laura Jackson, it might be like a palm reader or something.

Amanda: Oh, okay. So we won’t do that. We’ll put the m in there. All right. Thank you so much for joining us and come back again and let us know how you’re doing.

Laura: All right. Sounds good. Thank you, Amanda, so much.


Become a Student
See how SPU can help you achieve your academic and career goals!
Discover SPU