Problems With Time & Math in Fibromyalgia & ME/CFS

Is it Dyscalculia?

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Have you noticed that math is a lot harder, or that you have more trouble keeping track of time since you developed fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS)? A lot of us do.

So when I read about dyscalculia -- a learning disability that deals with math -- I had to wonder if it's common in us. Dyscalculia is similar to dysphasia, which includes those word-finding difficulties so many of us have.

Research doesn't shed any light on whether dyscalculia could be part of FMS or ME/CFS. It's just not something scientists have taken enough interest in. (Which is fine -- I'd much rather they focused on things like treatments and underlying mechanisms.)

Dyscalculia not only impairs math and number abilities (forgetting concepts, transposing numbers), it also involves:

  • Difficulties with time: inability to remember schedules, keep track of time, or remember a sequence of events.
  • Spacial problems: impaired direction sense and memory of how things are laid out, leading to frequently getting lost or becoming disoriented.
  • Difficulty sight-reading music or learning instrument fingerings.
  • Difficulty remembering names.

Any of that sound familiar? It's incredibly common for us to get lost, or forget how to get where we're going. Who among us hasn't lost their car in a parking lot? I used to have a pretty good ability to sight-read and learn new music, but now I really struggle with it.

I know I've lost the ability to do mental math or remember numbers, even for a short time. The flow of time is difficult for me to judge, too. One time, I got frustrated with my husband for "nagging" me about laundry, when I'd done several loads a few days before -- or so I thought. When I did a load for him, I counted 17 shirts. 17. It had been 2.5 weeks since I'd washed anything, and I'd have sworn it was maybe five days.

Research shows that dyscalculia involves dysfunction in a specific part of the brain, meaning all of those problems come from the same cause. To me, this is huge because now I know that many of my dysfunctions could have the same root cause; they're ONE problem instead of SIX unrelated ones.

I use online games for cognitive training, and this knowledge gives me a much simpler plan of attack for improving my math, time sense, direction sense, musical ability, name recall, etc. -- if I can improve one of these things, it should spill over into the others, because it all comes from one part of the brain.

Dyscalculia isn't something you can take a pill for, it's something you have to live with. The good news is that it is a recognized learning disability, just like dyslexia or dysphasia. If it causes problems for you at work/school, you can talk to your boss/teacher about having this learning disability without having to disclose that you have FMS or ME/CFS, or trying to explain brain fog. Learning disabilities are covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act, so if you can actually be diagnosed with dyscalculia you can request reasonable accommodation.

The term dyscalculia doesn't get a lot of use even in schools, so it might be easier to say you have a "learning disability in applied math."

Dyscalculia Resources

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