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How My Learning Disability Makes Reading Roman Numerals Difficult

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Having dyscalculia makes doing math difficult. Math, to me, seems like a foreign language that I never quite mastered. One of the most difficult parts is
reading Roman numerals. When numbers and letters are combined my brain doesn’t understand it. If I see IV my brain sees the I and the V not the letter four. I am left confused and don’t realize they are talking about numbers not letters or abbreviations.

My trouble with Roman numbers began in late elementary school. My teacher thought it would be a great idea for me to attend math class with my regular education peers when they were studying Roman numerals. I can remember not understanding the lesson and being very confused. I expressed my concern to my teacher and she brushed it off. She told me that it was important to get exposure to this and it shouldn’t be too hard for me. I don’t remember my learning support teacher following up and trying to help with it either. I had one other lesson with my regular education peers in math and it left me frustrated as well. I can remember watching all of my other peers getting stickers for completing their math correctly and not getting one.

Roman numerals gave me more problems as I progressed through school and had to do outlines. I still didn’t understand how Roman numerals worked, but the teacher expected them on the outline. I would research the information and attempt to put it on the outline with the Roman numerals. The teachers would say that my information was in the wrong place. I had the right information and good resources for information. If writing a paper was involved I generally got a better a grade on the paper than the outline.

When I asked for help people would say, “It’s so easy I can’t believe that you can’t get this!” I had a professor who gave me my outline back and told me, “There are books that can help you write an outline.” Reading a book was not going to help me understand how to write an outline using Roman numerals. Thankfully when I went to the university all of my professors wanted bulleted summaries for the outline. I found it much easier to have a heading and put bullet points instead of Roman numerals. I was able to clearly express my knowledge and didn’t have to worry about Roman numerals. My professors understood what I was saying and I got much better grades on outlines.

Roman numerals are not contained to school. I come across stores with Roman numerals and clothing tags. If the store is new I struggle with reading the name of it if it’s in Roman numerals. If an understanding person tells me the name then I can I will remember it. If I would read the Roman numerals at random they wouldn’t make sense to me.

I think that exposure to Roman numerals is important. Students will encounter them in readings and may have to use them for assignments. Some students with learning disabilities may understand them and even prefer using them. For students who simply can’t get Roman numerals
after repeated lessons it may be wise to move on to something else.

Technology helps me to understand Roman numerals. Whenever I come across a Roman numeral I am able to look it up on my phone or computer. Some people may view this as the easy way out, but there is nothing easy about looking at Roman numerals and not understanding them. I can sit for hours and stare at them in confusion and it’s not going to help.

What does help is using technology or asking someone what the Roman numeral is. I am often hesitant to ask because of the negative reactions of others. If Roman numerals make sense to you then please use them. I only ask for the understanding that my disability makes reading Roman numerals difficult.

Thankfully there are alternatives to Roman numerals. My brain may not
understand how Roman numerals or math concepts work, but there are other ways to do things and find an alternative that works.

Photo credit: Hemera Technologies/Getty Images

Originally published: February 14, 2021
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