Graphs – beauty and truth
24 April 2017
Mathematics and statistics lessons about elections
13 July 2017

Maths trauma and earthquakes

Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Many people in my home town of Christchurch still suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of our earthquakes five or so years ago. I know I will never be the same again. The trauma began with the original terrifying experience of having the ground move in a way you never thought was even possible. It was perpetuated by over eighteen months of never knowing when the next earthquake (deceptively called aftershock) would hit. And the trauma still continues for many as they struggle to sort out their homes, and jobs, and their families. (Even now the thought of earthquakes can bring me to tears, and heavy machinery undertaking drainage work happening in my street is not helping.)
People might question if the impact of bad maths experiences can really be likened to the trauma people experience as the result of a series of earthquakes. I listened recently to a webinar about maths trauma, hosted by Global Math Department, and presented by Dr Kasi Allen. Math Trauma: Healing Our Classrooms, Our Students, and Our Discipline The webinar occurred in April 2016, but thanks to the amazing global maths community, it is still available and has had over 1000 views. Dr Allen calls herself a “math activist who studies math trauma and promotes teaching mathematics for social justice”. I see myself and the work we do at Creative Maths in that vein also.


Three students engrossed in a maths event

I have reproduced a few of the ideas in the webinar, but would recommend visiting it yourself to get the full value.
Dr Allen’s proposition is that what is commonly called math anxiety is probably better described as math trauma. She teaches preservice elementary school teachers. A watershed experience has been seeing people bolt from the room in tears, simply looking at the syllabus at the start of a maths course.

Too many people think they are not maths people

I am frequently told by people that they do not have a maths brain, could never learn maths, that they are not a maths person. I have had middle-aged women tell me of formative experiences that happened over fifty years previously that have shaped their relationship with mathematics. Recently I asked my Facebook friends both mathematically inclined and not so mathematically inclined about how they picture numbers. Time and again their responses included the statement that they are not good at maths.

Maths anxiety and trauma

The term “math anxiety” dates back to the 1950s and is still used today. There are decades of research into how math anxiety disproportionately affects students who are female, low income and non-white. What Dr Allen (and I)  found disturbing was that among college students, undergraduate education majors are the most maths anxious, both in terms of number and severity. These are the people who are entrusted with teaching mathematics to the next generation. Primary school teachers too often have an unhealthy relationship with maths – that is NOT their fault. They were taught in a way that did not work for them and they carry the burden with them.
Dr Allen suggests that maths trauma is a more fitting description than maths anxiety. Jo Boaler talks about people as having been maths traumatised. The negative experiences people have with mathematics, are described as painful and damaging. Traumatic events can be grounded in everyday life, and do not need to come from one catastrophic event. It is the subjective response that matters. Dr Allen gives the following definition:

“Math trauma stems from an event, a series of events, or a set of circumstances experienced by an individual as harmful or threatened such that there are lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and well-being in the perceived presence of mathematics.”

Healing teachers and students from maths trauma

Dr Allen has suggestions to help heal maths trauma. One suggestion is to acknowledge past negative experiences and their effects. We can listen and express sympathy and even apologise for the harm people have felt. We can provide opportunities for students to tell their maths stories. We can help them nurture their mathematics identities.
We also need to work on prevention of maths trauma. Classroom culture is important. Students need to feel safe and brave and they need to move. And we need to end traumatizing traditions. I have reproduced a screen shot of the slide about ending traumatizing traditions. Timed tests in mathematics have to stop. Now. Forever.
The question is, how do we (Creative Maths) help teachers to recover from maths trauma, so they can feel the fun and excitement that can be had in maths? Teachers matter for themselves, as well as for the good they can do their students. Maths educators need to be part of the solution and part of the prevention – to be maths activists. People are not born with maths trauma and it does not exist in all cultures. We need to do better.

Call for comment

So here is my question. Do you or someone you know suffer from maths trauma? Let me tell you now – it is not your fault. It is not their fault.
What needs to happen for you to feel better about maths? What needs to happen so that maths trauma can be eliminated from our schooling?


  1. […] Please comment on the article here: Learn and Teach Statistics and Operations Research […]

    • I’ve been diagnosed with what amounts to numbers dyslexia, a “condition” called Dyscalculia ( Could you comment on this?

      • Anna says:

        Ed, I hope this message gets to you.
        I’m a professional math tutor and I come across kids with dyscalculia once in a while, and they all overcome it! Absolutely!! Sometimes I do simple additions with even high school kids like 7+1 but they overcome it and move on. Creative drill is the way I use with lots of flash cards. And teach math vertically not horizontally because this kids are smarter than average! Vertical teaching is a term I came up with and it means, for example, after 3+2, go 13+12 instead of 3+3. And do 13 million +12million^^
        These kids are good at hard math but needs more practice for easy math. But once you overcome that easy math, they take off!!

      • Anna Kim-Booth says:

        Hi Ed, I work with students who learn math hard and helped quite a few students with discalculia..
        I use flash cards and have them memorize the heck out of it. One time, I taught a high school girl from 7+1 and stuff.
        So far I haven’t had even one student who didn’t overcomediscalculia!! You just need to do it until it’ doesn’t bother you any more!.
        Just repeat and repeat and repeat again!
        Good luck!

    • Xavie Kreiss says:

      I don’t know if I have maths trauma, but I can state that when I was in primary school I could manage: it was simple arithmetic. In my first year of secondary school everything changed and I started on a downward spiral.

      Maths being a “cumulative” subject, I quickly lagged behind more and more, understood nothing, and started to collect bad marks. I was afraid, since it could have cost me entry into University. I managed to scrape through, I passed my Baccalaureate (I’m French) with no maths at all among he subjects (I was in a Humanities stream).

      This was over 50 years ago. I managed to avoid maths after school, but since the 1990s I’ve tried from time to time to understand something about the subject, but in vain. Friends have tried to help me but given up saying my level was too low and they couldn’t even start to help.

      Yet I might try again.

      I can say truthfully that “I can’t do maths”. I’m neither proud of this, nor ashamed. It is simple fact. My level has been assessed as being comparable to a child of about 8.

      I don’t think my loathing for maths can be healed. It’s a subject that makes me feel slightly sick. Cold, impenetrable, like a very thick slab of concrete. It’s kept me locked out. And I still remember the fear during my teenage years.

      The idea that some people like the subject is something I find baffling.

      • Dr Nic says:

        Hi Xavie
        I’m so sorry you had such a bad experience with maths. It really is a cumulative subject. One problem is that in NZ it is accepted that some people will not be able to learn some maths. However in Japan, everyone is expected to keep up and they get help if they need it. I am starting to run tuition with adults in early maths and hope that I can help some people like you.

      • Anna says:

        Hi Xavie,
        If you get this message, can I try to help you a bit? Free of charge^^
        One thing is that when I help adults, they don’t try hard enough and they quit easily. It’s because kids have their parents on their back making them move on, but adults don’t . So they don’t to their homework and eventually give up…pretty quickly^^ and they are busy with work, socializing, family duties and things.
        If you want to try with me, let me know.

  2. mjpledger says:

    There has to be a balance in “grouping by ability/tracking”. Obviously a “cabbage class” is not a great idea but neither is boring the bright kids into mediocrity and disinterest.

  3. Cathy says:

    I can absolutely relate to this article, I was a victim of the general conviction that there are people that ‘are good in maths’ and those who are not. That’s why I tried to avoid mathematics as much as possible in high school. Much later in my Bachelor and Master, I discovered that mathematics and statistics are just a matter of exercising (and actually not as scary as commonly taught) and I discovered my passion for them! It is a pity that we don’t get this message from primary school on!

    • Dr Nic says:

      Hi Cathy
      Thank you for your comments. You are so NOT alone. And unfortunately avoiding mathematics can limit opportunities later on. Well done for exercising! One of the things we emphasise to the children is that Mathematicians make mistakes and learn.

  4. Geoffrey Brent says:

    Good video on “math anxiety” here:

  5. Nikki says:

    This statement was probably the most attention-grabbing and intriguing to me: “Timed tests in mathematics have to stop. Now. Forever.”
    I have a few questions that would be great to get commentary on, if possible. My first thought was, “what does that look like?” Do you give the students a test where you give them as much time as they need, even if that’s 4 hours, when the vast majority of student should and can complete it in 2? Is that really feasible when considering the resources and time needed to facilitate that (I have cohorts of up to 500 students a year; we have very restricted access to timetabling venues that can hold that many students). I also wonder if this is, in some ways, doing a disservice to the student, as once they reach the workforce, they will have many deadlines, time pressures, need to recall information under pressure etc. For these reasons, I’m not sure this is a wise suggestion.
    I should also say that (despite the preceding paragraph listing some of my reservations), I can also see the merits to this approach. I often have students come see me, and they express a sense of frustration, because they felt they knew and understood the content, but were stressed/under pressure, and didn’t feel they had enough time to complete the exam. Some of these students do well in assignments (where they have a week to complete the assignment in an open book way), but completely “bomb” in exams.
    My background: I teach a first year uni maths and statistics course to students in Health fields. Also, my university has now made it *mandatory* that all final exams are at most 2 hours long, regardless of their weighting and level of content.

    • Dr Nic says:

      Hi Nikki
      Sorry to take so long to answer. Some great thoughts – and thanks for reading and commenting!
      When I wrote about timed tests, I was mainly meaning the high pressure timed tests on basic facts and multiplication tables, that are used in primary/elementary school. These have fluency as their aim, but research has shown that they only work towards a rather narrow view of fluency as speed, and that they harm people’s views of mathematics. But we also need to rethink exams at higher levels.
      I too have taught first year uni maths and stats courses, but to students in commerce fields. For many of my students English was not their native language, so there were issues of comprehending the questions before even beginning to answer them. We endeavoured to make our tests so that just about anyone could finish them in time. I also set up a mastery learning type blended course with online testing, and the students had close to unlimited time. (The tests took between 5 minutes and an hour, and the testing sessions were two hours long).
      So much about exams is so artificial, that I don’t think there is much in them that compares with “real life”. To start with your students probably use calculators, when in any office they are far more likely to use a spreadsheet or phone. Many exams are “closed book” so students have to rely on memory, whereas most people have access to the internet almost all the time, to clarify meanings, formulas etc.

  6. Kim Hansson says:

    Wow, I came across your blog randomly and I am so thankful to find this type of content! This is exactly what I needed. I am always anxious and keep postponing my maths related subjects (chemistry & physics) in my degree as I never felt that I was good at maths throughout primary and high school. I now try to learn a little everyday to gain my confidence.

    • Dr Nic says:

      Hi Kim
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Please know that your maths anxiety is not your fault. And that there are many many people like you. I have found that adults who learn maths later pick it up well, and whatever happened in their earlier maths learning experiences can be replaced with success and enjoyment.
      Good luck and just keep trying.

  7. […] also introduced the idea of maths trauma, that I wrote about in a previous post, and explained that preservice elementary school teachers have been found to have the highest rate […]

  8. […] also introduced the idea of maths trauma, that I wrote about in a previous post, and explained that preservice elementary school teachers have been found to have the highest rate […]

  9. […] Fluency without fear by Jo Boaler. Read this about Maths trauma. Do not add to the students’ feelings of inadequacy. One possibility if you wish to give a […]

  10. Christo says:

    I was never caught anything past decimals. Because I never passed pre algebra, I simply wasn’t taught any math afterwards. I’m learning disabled and never passed the required math exam to graduate high school. I’m now 34 and must take an assessment math test to enroll in college. I can’t understand anything in the free sample test they provided. All the learning resources I’ve been provided makes my anxiety spike and…I just don’t know!

    • Dr Nic says:

      Hi Christo
      I’m so sorry to hear that. It is so frustrating when people get limited like that. It seems that a personal tutor would really help. Adults can learn maths well even if they had trouble as children.

  11. […] perceived presence of mathematics,” Kasi Allen, PhD, a math activist (yes, math activist), tells Creative Maths. This is why the dreaded timed division tests of your youth have literally scarred you […]

  12. Ellie says:

    I can definitely relate to this and am thankful that I’ve found your site! I was told from a very young age that girls are good at English and spelling and boys are better at Math and Science. I had two strong female influences as well as countless experiences that confirmed it and It has haunted me ever since. I struggled in math to the point that I failed my grade 8 math exam and decided to take general level math courses through high school which derailed my career aspirations. At 44 years old I’m still suffering the effects of believing I was “bad at math”. I’m on a course to overcome that though and this information has confirmed my suspicions that my brain “shuts off” in the face of math (especially timed math problems) as a result of my previous learning and trauma. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I’m a trained Emotional Freedom Techniques practitioner (EFT a.ka. Tapping) which is a technique that can help the brain recover from past trauma and unlock it for fresh learning. I’d encourage anyone hear that’s suffered from math trauma to look into EFT as a method to help the traumatized brain.

    • Dr Nic says:

      Thanks for your interest and comment. Everyone can do maths, so I hope you can find a good way to discover how much fun it can be!

  13. Kiwiwriter says:

    Hi, Dr. Nic:

    First, I know your home town of Christchurch well, as I lived there for three years — it’s where I got married, my daughter was born, I had my first home, and first dog. Last time I was there, I was stunned by the destruction.

    Second, I know a great deal about “Maths Trauma,” but never knew the term. I suffered from it as a child and still do as an adult 40 years later. Because of math, I tried to kill myself as a teenager and in freshman year of university. Today, 40 years later, I can no longer do math problems at all…I see the angry red cloud of my youth, and have to hit the “Calculator” link on my computer. The only math I can do is making change — I can see the coins floating in the air, which makes life easier for cashiers at McDonald’s — and baseball.

    Would you like to hear my story?

    • Dr Nic says:

      HI Kiwiwriter
      That sounds really awful. I am so sorry you had to go through that. I am sure many people cannot understand how bad it is for you. IF you wanted to write your story, I would be happy to put it here on my blog to share with people.

  14. […] الواقع تشير الدراسات إلى أن الكثيرين يعانون من ما يسمى Math Trauma، وهي نوع من أنواع الانغلاق الذهني فيما يتعلق بالمسائل […]

  15. Martha says:

    I mentor a 7th grader who “hates math” but is very bright in other subjects. I told her she could have 10% of the change in my wallet if she could figure it out. We did a little math lesson on percentages first, but she seemed blocked and could only guess the answers. When I saw how she counted the money, I was in shock as she mixed up the piles of coins, asked more than once what coins were called and struggled to remember the difference between a quarter and a nickel. Toward the end of this 30 minute process she said, I give up. I said to myself, “This girl has math trauma,” not even knowing if there is such a thing. With a lot of help, she finished and got $1.09, but I could see that it was definitely not worth it for her. Not one thing about the activity was enjoyable, and certainly not fun.

    Even though I think of myself as a math whiz, I recognize that I am a very poor teacher because I expect people to breeze through simple math. For example, when she asked me, “Is this a penny?” my response was, “Seriously?” I really thought she might be joking, but she was not, and it was too late. Letting that word, “seriously” slip out probably re-traumatized her to some degree. Clearly I need to work on myself before I can help her.

    I want to find a way to help her heal this trauma, and also explore the systemic issues of gender, race and class around this phenomena of math trauma.

    I use Internal Family Systems with adults to heal many types of trauma, and one of the processes i use is based on the belief that, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” The body doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined childhood experiences, so we relive these traumatic experiences using a process of witnessing the trauma, reparenting the wounded child, unburdening the old beliefs and replacing them with new beliefs.

    I want to try something similar with this student and wonder where I can find guidelines for healing math trauma.

    I am grateful for any help you can offer.

    many thanks – Martha

  16. […] few people are now even suggesting that learning math can be a traumatic experience, something survived, rather than […]

  17. tristan says:

    Can sexual abuse and other trama affect learning math?
    How can i proceed to learn math as a adult suffering from this?
    I always struggled in math as a child school in particular, and now it has got to a point where i feel helpless. I see all my friends from high school also classmates on Facebook an social media living their successes and it hurts so much because if i hadent undergone so much trauma as a child i would be living my successes i set in life as well. I feel excluded from the rest of everyone i cant describe the pain i feel every day not only that my school failed to see whati was going through instead i was put into special ed classes an that made me feel even worst as if i was stuped infact my fother made me feel as such which did not help. What can i do to getmy diploma an live a normal life, and also live my successes i set out as well.

    • Dr Nic says:

      Trauma of all kinds has far-reaching effects on your life. There are so many ways that we can be damaged on our way through life. I would suggest you get counselling to help with your trauma as a step towards further learning. My sorrow for your pain.

      • Tristan R says:

        Thank you ma’am. I am seeking help for this in those areas, but one on my concerns is how exactly I can go about learning math an how I can go about doing this as an adult. Math had held me back in so many ways I missed out on so many opportunities because of this is there any direction you can point me in to achive this so I can feel as though I’m somewhat normal because at this point in life my sadness stems from my lack of math skills. Although what happend to me as a kid still affects me I’m at least happy that I am in a good place in life right now, but it is hard for me to see people I know an went to school with have so much success but I have non to speak of it is very hard for me. Is there anything I can do or go to strengthen my math skills? I also forgot to mention that my dad was non the better in fact he taken me out of school for a number of years, and in that time I was not receiving any education, he was not a good person in my life an I also feel he is the blame for where I am at in life.

        • Dr Nic says:

          Hi Tristan
          Good on you for getting help. I would suggest a community college or similar might be a good place to start you maths journey.

  18. This actually answered my downside, thanks!

  19. Grace McNeil says:

    I’m a mature student who returned to education at further education level, a level/national 6 here in the UK. I am studying Biology and Chemistry and it has very quicker become clear my level of maths is light years away from where it should be and I really really struggle to cope, often ending up in floods of tears and panic not knowing how to improve. My partner is a physicist and tries to help but there’s little he can do to help me challenge what feels like a bone deep animal fear response that shuts down my working memory. Finding this article and feeling like you describe what I experience is driving me, that I could change this, but I just don’t know where to begin with something that feels so instinctive. Thank you for your writing. X

    • Dr Nic says:

      Hi Grace
      Thank you for your comments. You are so NOT alone in your experience. It is not your fault. There are ways to help. Your institution may have a facility you can call on for help. Do persist!

  20. Leah Hall says:

    Hi, my name is Leah, I am 42 yrs old and I have severe math trauma. It goes back to when I was a small child in school, my dad was the only parent that had a high school diploma and graduated from a Junior College. I would have to ask him for help in everything school related. I started school not understanding math. I would ask my dad to help me and he would but If I continued to not understand the math problem or I kept giving him the wrong answer he would hit me on my head or slap me. I got to the point that I wouldn’t ask him for help. My math teachers would make the students go to the chalkboard during class to solve a math problem. I couldn’t solve any of the math problems I was given. Instead of my teachers helping me, they would make fun of me in front of the class. I really started to hate math very much and would avoid it if at all possible. I cheated on tests and copied friends homework and I would always manage to pass math classes with a D average. Math kept me from going to college and getting a degree and having a successful career. I am presently in college trying to get my degree in surgical technology but I didn’t place high enough on the math placement test. I took 3 pre-algebra classes so far and I was only able to pass one class that the teacher was a Lady that was a high school math teacher. Since then I have failed 2 classes and when I take tests I start having anxiety and I go blank. Is there any help for me?

    • Abel says:

      Perfect Your math with Running and exercise it helps to improve concentration. Physical activity helps a lot to perform better academically, have better memory.

      • Dr Nic says:

        I agree that running can help relaxation and fitness, but there are also other challenges that it will not fix.

    • Dr Nic says:

      Hi Leah
      So sorry to hear of your problems with mathematics. It really is not your fault. Is there any possibility that you can get one-on-one tuition with someone that you understand and who understands your challenges?

  21. Nancy Campion says:

    Thank you for your timely article. I’m an older adult. I had severe math trauma beginning in catholic grammar. School. LCD decimals word problems. In my freshman. Year of high school. We began. Modern algebra. I was lost from page one. Yelled at by the nun, given punishment assignments. My mother was told there was something wrong w me. I failed geometry. Went to summer school for algebra and finally passed. I did not go to nursing school because of math. As a young adult, I got my college degree with honors. My question is can I overcome this experience and learn math at my age. Tha is

    • Dr Nic says:

      Nancy, I am so sorry to hear of your terrible experience. You definitely can get over the experience and the first step is to know that it is not your fault. I am thinking about providing on-line tuition for people who have had experiences like yours. Some people do find it difficult to learn maths, but some people also find it difficult to shoot basketballs (me). We can all improve with practice and nurturing help.

  22. Rachael says:

    I found your post after being moved to tears yet again while helping my third grade child with math. I find it amazing that simply looking at my children’s math homework can bring up such strong traumatic memories of my own learning experiences.

    I first remember struggling with math in second grade, when my teacher wrote comments on my report card about me lacking self confidence in math. One of my earliest memories of math is when my second grade teacher asked us to write out the numbers 1 through 2,000 on a piece of paper, and I didn’t understand counting to thousands and simply wrote up to 200 and thought I was done. The teacher told me I was wrong/not finished and passed it back to me to fix without further instruction. In third grade, where we had different teachers for each subject and my math teacher only saw me for math, that math teacher told my parents I might need to be placed in a special ed class. Then the teacher took the time to look at my grades in all my other subjects and realized I was actually “a smart little gal.”

    I was told all my life by my mother, aunts, and other older relatives that all the women in the family are inherently bad at math. My mom made sure I was placed in the more basic math classes in school because I wasn’t good at math. My parents made me spend more time studying math because I struggled with it, but that extra time made it feel like even more of a drudgery and punishment. Math was just something to get through, something to survive, until I graduated from high school and could pursue a degree in English and writing that didn’t require any math classes.

    My husband and I have had many conversations about how to not pass my math trauma/anxiety onto our children. I really try to bite my tongue when the subject of math comes up. My oldest daughter qualified to take an advanced math class this year, and I’m so proud of her. But third grade math still brings a lump to my throat and I have to blink back tears. I haven’t taken a math class for 22 years and the subject still makes me cry.

    • Dr Nic says:

      Rachael, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with me. It makes me just about cry reading about them, and you need to know there are many more people like you, mostly women, who have had such awful experiences. The main thing to know is that it is not your fault. And well done for trying not to pass on maths trauma to your children. You have clearly been successful with your oldest daughter. I do wonder if there is a place for online help for parents like you in these times.

  23. Nadja says:

    Thank you so much for the article. I hope I correctly grasped the essence of the article … I did not find such articles in Russian … In grade 8, I could not repeat in class what I diligently solved and studied at home from the textbook … It became a real trauma for me🤦‍♀️ After all, my older brother solved all this easily, and I wasted a lot of time, but there was no result. All this upset me very much, because my father, an engineer, he considered me not diligent enough, lazy, and mathematics was simply not given to me, I did not understand it well and did not like it. Thank you very much for your comments and for the article.

    • Dr Nic says:

      You are most welcome Nadja. It seems as if mathematics was not explained to you in a way you could understand. Then emotions get in the way of learning. It is not your fault.

      • Bugs says:

        Hi, Dr. Nic! I think your comment, “Then emotions get in the way of learning” sums it up for me and a lot of other former math students. The emotions were fear, frustration, embarrassment, loneliness, and self-hate. For us, math wasn’t just a subject to be learned (and maybe even enjoyed). It was an ordeal, a stress test, a test of character, a moral crisis. It seemed to be inflicted on us by a system that was designed not to impart knowledge but to weed out “defective products.”

        We got ONE chance to “absorb the material” and ONE chance to prove that we had absorbed it. Repeating a course if we didn’t understand the subject was a sign of failure and an embarrassment. Our marks in Algebra I were FOREVER. Add to that the risks and conseqauences of displeasing parents, and or course math was poisoned by horrible feelings. IAs you say, it could be traumatic.

        I hope you continue working de-traumatize the learning and teaching of math, and to help already “damaged” folks have a happier relationship with numbers. If you can enable people to re-visit math without re-living the trauma, many of them will discover that they are not as “bad at math” as they thought. You’re definitely on the right track. Thanks for your efforts!

        • Dr Nic says:

          Thank you “Bugs”. You are right that so many adults who manage to revisit maths without the trauma really do discover their own capability.

  24. Anna says:

    I work as a professional math tutor and teach math to a lot of students. I’m actually a creative writing major and hold a teaching credential to teach English. But I learned over the years of tutoring career that there are too many kids petrified by math. Many of my students bursted out crying in public places like libraries and cafes while calculating numbers or sometimes at the sight of a fraction or just to hear the word ‘geometry. One high school girl put her face on my shoulder and wailed uncontrollably at a busy crowded cafe, getting my shirt soaked with her tears just because she saw a fraction in next question! I have experienced too many cases like this! And not many of these students have dyscalculia; they are just traumatized by math. But believe me! All of these students eventually, in a short time usually like a month, overcome this and achieve higher grades and go on to be the best math students in their classes! Even dyscalculia is not hard to overcome. Math, in beginning stages like from k-12, is like a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ field. What parents and math teachers don’t realize is that math is basically 90% (I made up this number^^) memorization. And we need to remember that we memorize even strange abstract concepts better using images that we know already. It’s really simple! I specialize kids with learning differences, ADHD, and so on. They all learned! They all moved on to the top of their classes and declared math is fun and math is their favorite subject! The worst enemy in doing all this is anxiety. You can overcome anxiety by experiencing a series of little successes.
    Make sure you or your kids experience little successes regarding math and complement them a lot. To do this, sometimes I eve call the students’ teachers ahead and ask them to ask a specific math question to my students, so my students can answer it in front of all their classmates. You need to see their faces when they come and tell me what happened in the math class that day😀😀😀 it’s priceless!!!
    Anybody can learn math. So far I never had any students who didn’t overcome their math anxiety, trauma or dyscalculia. It can be done!! Keep at it!! Be creative in learning or teaching math! Remember, a string of little success is the magic word.

    • Dr Nic says:

      HI Anna
      What great work you are doing. I am currently working with individuals as well, and what a privilege that is.

      • Anna says:

        Hi Dr Nic,
        Sorry for the very very late reply. I just saw your comment. That is very true! It is such a tremendous privilege to be able to make a even a little difference in these kids’ lives. I’ve been working with this 7th grader for a year now, and when we first starte, he won’t let me complement him at all. If I gave him a tiny complement, he would Burt out crying out loud and tell me to take it back. And he won’t stop crying, throwing things, running away until I take my complements back!! Imagine that!! And he used to tell me what kind of failure he was with words that I don’t want to repeat here…now after a year, he is confident, he tells me he is not bad at math, sometimes good at math, sometimes admitting he is actually very good at math haha. He is mom says he matured at home like magic! He helps his classmates, he helps his brothers. ALL THIS, ONLY WITH MATH! Our school system is definitely doing something wrong for these things happen. A kid’s character, value, etc shouldn’t be judged by math.
        This boy is ready to be moved onto to an advanced math class^^ sweet revenge to systems and people who thought he was stupid!! Hahaha

  25. […] few people are now even suggesting that learning math can be a traumatic experience, something survived, rather than […]

  26. […] few people are now even suggesting that learning math can be a traumatic experience, something survived, rather than […]

  27. Ryawan says:

    A story of math trauma fighter.
    I’m 23 years old now. The fighter from math trauma. I have a lot of traumas, but one of that is math trauma. I’m not difficulted of math in elementary school, not from junior high school but from senior high school. Someday, I’m doing a
    physics test, and than I get 0 score for 3 times. Only I got a 0 score at my class. My journey start from it. Then I hate studying, I hate study to all study subjects. But, I know, I must complete my school. So, I’m studying again to complete it.
    After surviving from it, than I’m searching for my collage. My math trauma come to guide me for not to take math field. So I choose Biology Teacher. In my country teachers is not valuable job. This is my life now. survive to being a major humans.

  28. xhale says:

    I finally got my GED in my 30s after years of severe math trauma.

  29. Maria says:

    I realized that I have math trauma past year.
    A friend sent me a pic where I am taking an award from a math competition at university level. I started wondering what is wrong with me and why I can’t do maths as I used to.
    I freeze when someone asks me to do some calculation, or help them with maths. I graduated from Engineering field so people think I must be good but I am so afraid to be a disappointment. People ask why I don’t work in the field.

    Probably, I’m so traumatized that I can barely remember what I did in that 4 years but analyzing I realize that the professors never saw me as an individual wanting to learn but as a woman coming to get married and increase the population, they used to say this every semester in front of all the class when they went through the list and saw my name.
    When I asked for help they will say that I could go back from where I came, that I needed to memorize all the problems in the book and I could pass the test. There was even one professor who would call students to the front and give them a problem just to call them stupid and all call of names, this made me so stressed that I dropped the class.

    I don’t hate maths, but I hate the fact I let these people ruin what others and myself have worked for.

    I decided that I want to recover, and heal. So finding articles like this helped me understand what work I have to do.

    I started with 3rd grade math in Khan academy, and I have cry soo much feeling pressure that I have to do it fast, and seeing how I freeze in fear at the thought, I try to talk good things to myself, and go slowly, and enjoy learning a new.

    It is sad many people don’t understand this. I am afraid to talk about it because the country I live will rarely understand what is this. But I hope to heal to help other that is why I swap major to education.

  30. Kay Woodward says:

    This has taken me a lot to reveal
    Im struggling with maths I have all my life
    I’m probably falling into the trauma category
    I was smacked aplenty by my parents for not getting maths right !
    I had a lot of time off with tonsillitis so I missed time at school along with the coal strike !
    I’ve tried to overcome this but it has a detrimental affect but I’ve managed to hide this over the years but it’s affecting my mental health

  31. Sofia says:

    I struggled with Math for as long as I can remember. I’m now diagnosed with ADHD which probably accounted for a lot of the frustration I felt when I was younger. I remember somewhat enjoying visual maths like geometry in elementary/middle school but it got increasingly worse. My dad also used to give me pages of math questions every night that he would make me do after dinner. Obviously, I would absolutely hate doing these and, being from eastern europe, he wouldn’t explain how to answer the questions in the same way the teacher would want me to and would get frustrated with me if I didn’t understand. I still vividly remember sobbing over the math sheets in my room for hours. I also found it incredibly challenging that teachers would insist problems be solved exactly the way they request, even if there is another process that still produces a correct answer. If I understood this other process, the teacher would insist I do it the other way which would just cause more frustration and self-esteem problems. In high school, I had a tutor but could not retain anything from those sessions and would even fall asleep despite trying so hard to focus. I’m now trying to pursue an undergrad in ecology and therefore have to re-visit math and it’s still immediately causes me to cry in most cases, triggering so much self-directed anger and doubt, and I just don’t know how to get around it. I assumed my whole life that I just wasn’t good at math, and I do still think that, although Math trauma would make sense. Regardless, it feels like there is a huge wall stopping me from getting anything more than a C grade and I just can’t see any way around it.

  32. […] campo. A lo largo de esas décadas, he conocido a muchas personas que sufren diversos grados de trauma matemático, una forma de apagado mental debilitante cuando se trata de hacer […]

  33. […] field for 30 years. Across those decades, I’ve met many people who suffer from varying degrees of math trauma – a form of debilitating mental shutdown when it comes to doing […]

  34. Juanita Negrete says:

    Hi Anna,

    I read your comment about how you can help adults trying to learn math. I know you may never see this, but I have struggled with math all my life. I am currently taking a statistics course in college. I feel like I just can not do this without crying every second. ( well if anyone sees this are there any tips you guys can give) this subject holds me back from many opportunities! Thank you !

  35. Anna Kim-Booth says:

    Hi Juanita,
    First of all, congratulation on taking college level statistics!!! That’s not possible without being decently good at high level math and having a tenacity to make it! And it seems you have both!! Congratulations!
    Obviously what you are suffering from is not math ability because you proved to yourself and others that you can do it! Now how many people on this earth have the ability to take college level statistics? Probably less than 0.001%! This is a random number I threw in but probably less than that! And you made it!
    What you are suffering from is your own unrealistic expectation you set up so you can’t reach it any way, like I need to be able to do this really easily on top of my finger tips, this should be a cinch for me, it should be flowing out of my brain, or, if I try hard enough, I should be able to decently get it… things like that. Life doesn’t work like that as you know by now.
    You just need to focus and try and try until you get it. If you don’t get it, exhaust all possible ways., like professors, friends, peers, tutors … do it until you get it!
    My son Alex has math disorder and he wanted to be a mechanical engineer. I was against it at first because I knew it was going to be a struggle. Guess what? He did it! Was it easy? Nope! It took him 11 years^^ now he is a proud mechanical engineer and making good money and having fun! Sometimes he had to repeat the same class twice! More than one time, when he got a C, he begged the professor to change it to D, so he could repeat again.
    He has ADHD, high functioning autism spectrum, centrism auditory disorder, math disorder, language disorder, anxiety and multiple phobias and he did it simply because he wanted it and didn’t give up until he got it. He was able to do it because he didn’t put judgement on his math skills.
    So stop judging yourself, and keep going the way you are going, and don’t give up! Just memorize the heck out of it!!
    I wish I can help you but I’m a restive writing major so I know only easy math lol
    Juanita, keepp going and celebrate every little success. Don’t compare yourself with others who does math easily. You have other skills they don’t have!
    You can do it! You just need to do it without crying and complaining., but by patting your back and celebrating!
    I’m very proud of you!!!!!


    • Juanita Negrete says:

      Hi Anna,

      Thank you for replying I will keep that in mind I believe I also may have dyscalculia because I have always struggled with math. I will practice and practice and try to memorize I will not give up. Thank you again !

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