• Cory Morrison

Autism: How good I was in mathematics?

Updated: Nov 25

As many of you know, I'm a writer. Therefore, you probably wonder how good I was at an unrelated subject: Math.

My math skills were uneven and all over the place, but I would say they were generally below average. I especially had issues with word problems since they involve a lot of variables and abstract thinking. According to Indiana Resource Centre for Autism, abstract thinking and organizational skills can be challenging for students with autism.

Elementary school

Number Sense and Numeration

I was most advanced in this area when I was younger because I learned basic counting and addition skills during ABA therapy. By the time I left Preschool and entered Kindergarten, I could add single-digit numbers rather well, and subtraction also came somewhat naturally to me.

Number Sense and Numeration
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Money math was tricky, but I gradually got better at it over the years.

I think I learned double-digit addition and subtraction by second grade and was skilled with multiplication and division by third grade, which, at least through my memory, is pretty average.

The later elementary years were much harder for me in this part of math, especially long division. To this day, I can still not do long division. Also, hundredths vs. hundreds, I needed frequent assistance.

More complex concepts such as factor trees and common denominators weren't easy for me, but I still enjoyed working with these areas.


During ABA, my understanding of measurement didn't go any further than big, small, long, or short. Entering school learning new measurement concepts was a tad overwhelming for me.

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For a good part of elementary school, I felt bad for being one of the shortest kids in my grade. When activities involving measuring people's height took place, I enjoyed doing them, yet I felt insecure at the same time.

Don't get me started on volume vs. mass and that one must measure volume in liters and mass in grams. These concepts were incredibly difficult for me, no matter how my parents, teachers, or educational assistants would explain them to me. As you probably guessed, with my literal and concrete thinking, I was too distracted by how "loud the volume" of a glass of juice would be. That was a clever association that certainly didn't help me progress well in this area. I was also below normal with area and perimeter.

Patterning and algebra

Patterns came fairly naturally to me. Algebra, not so much. Even in my later elementary years, I still had problems knowing where to put which variable in an equation. It's the sequencing and lack of concrete thinking which made algebra difficult for me. This math meant I had to organize my thoughts meaningfully.

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I was modestly into shapes as a young child, and I also learned what cones, cylinders, and spheres were when I played JumpStart Kindergarten Math at that age. That game always made me hungry since it involved making a huge cake for a giant. Therefore, this stuff was easy for me.

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However, with protractors and the types of triangles, I cringe when I look back to how tough these concepts were. It didn't even occur to me that equilateral meant same and equal angles. I could also not use a protractor without educational assistant support.

Data Management and Probability

Although I didn't always get good grades in these areas, this was the most fun part of elementary math. I was mainly into bar graphs because of how easy it was for me to visually understand the data compared to other types of graphs. I still enjoyed using different types of graphs, though.

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Probability was also fun. I especially enjoyed how game-like teachers would make probability, such as playing with spinners and determining how likely a real-life event may occur during the day. Example: "I am not certain I will ski tonight because what if an accident or emergency occurs before my lesson, but I most likely will ski tonight."

High school

High school math was easier for me because I developed a lot academically by then, and I no longer needed frequent educational assistant prompts or redirection to pay attention. Plus, I only took locally developed and applied-level courses.

Back then, and to this day, I still can't use protractors, understand long division or do algebra well. The other stuff was pretty simple for me, just as long as I paid close attention.

High school
(Photo credit: Yuryz on Can Stock Photo)

I enjoyed Trigonometry more than Geometry. Something about trigonometry appealed to me, and I don't even remember what it was.

As for money math with mortgages and interest rates, this stuff didn't come naturally to me, but I still did fairly well with these concepts.

As for Calculus, let's say I'm not fully convinced I'll be able to drive in heavy traffic, but I am even more unsure that I can successfully complete a Calculus equation.

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