I went to the special ed. room because I stunk at math, but I stayed for the marshmallows.

Are you sure you want your kid diagnosed? (Part 2)

My stint as a special ed. kid

I remember my parents trying to make me feel good about being in special education (to clarify, it was math lessons in the special education room – a.k.a. The Room).

“It’s OK” they said. “You just learn math a bit different than the other kids. This will help you do it better.”

Bless them.

The next afternoon I got called out of my class with a few other kids and nervously walked down the hall toward “The Room”. I was told to sit at a U-shaped table next to the recently incriminated class "Marker Thief" - the girl who stole kids' markers... except it had recently gotten personal.

Here's what happened...

The Story of the Marker Thief

A few days before I went to The Room, I was doing some colouring and I couldn't find my brown marker. I looked everywhere - in my desk around the floor and then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it!

There it sat tauntingly resting on the inside ledge of my neighbour's desk. I sneakily reached in and grabbed it without delay and saw that the girl had crossed my name out (rather poorly I might add) and wrote her name over top of it. MARKER THIEF!

I couldn't believe it! Not only did

she steal my brown Crayola - she attempted an obvious cover-up of super-sized proportions! I quickly ran up to show the teacher my name was still there underneath her sloppily written chicken scratch (it was bad). Trusting that I had a fair and righteous judge for a teacher, I knew the truth would be on my side.

But my teacher didn't want to hear any of it! Without even hearing the truth I was reprimanded to go back to my seat and to give my brown marker back to Marker Thief. I never got the marker back.

Who the heck steals a brown marker anyway?

Back in the special ed room

So there I sat in The Room with Marker Thief on my right, the Special Ed. Teacher in front of us, and two other kids around the horseshoe table. It was my time to shine.

Billy the (Special Ed.) Kid

Adam, it's your turn. What’s 5+5?” she asked.

“10!” I shouted, surprising her with my quick-fire response. I was like the Billy the Kid of special ed.

Well done.” She said, pulling out a bag of colourful marshmallows from a drawer. “Here are five marshmallows.”

“For me? Can I eat them?!”

Yes, go ahead.” She smiled.

I had a taste for blood, albeit in the form of delicious, plump, sucrose corn syrup.

The teacher turned to Marker Thief.

What’s 2+3?” “5!” I interrupted with marshmallows flying out of my mouth. Billy the Kid wanted revenge. "I may not have gotten my marker back but I'll sure as heck get her marshmallows." I thought.

Adam,” the teacher corrected me, “It’s Marker Thief’s turn.”

“Go ahead then Marker Thief.” I said cockily, leaning back in my chair, cheeks swelling with marshmallows - much like Billy the Kid's would with chewing tobacco in a wild west saloon.

After a minute of the other kids getting problems wrong, the teacher turned back to me and asked me another easy problem. I, of course, got it right.

Billy the Kid strikes again. It was Marshmallow Time.

This cycle repeated itself for a good half-hour, and when the large bag of marshmallows had been emptied – mostly by me - we were sent back to class. I loved Marshmallow Class and I wanted to go back.

Sadly, I didn’t last more than a couple weeks in Marshmallow Class. Marshmallow Teacher quickly recognised that I was a bit more advanced than the other kids and I was dismissed for good. Billy the Kid was sent to the proverbial gallows. It was probably a good thing because I likely would have ended up as a Type-2 Diabetic.

This was my stint in special ed.

So what was the problem?

If I’m honest, I probably have some sort of undiagnosed processing/attention issues, including math difficulties. I flew through addition, subtraction and times tables with flying colours, but when we started multiplying and dividing larger numbers (long division) that required multiple steps and changes of direction and moving numbers around I was completely LOST!

Have a look at this picture and tell me it's not confusing:

I had (and still have) a tricky time with things involving multiple steps. A few years back, my boss spouted off a list of six or seven items I needed to sort out that day while I was in charge of the school.

“Got it!” I said confidently.

She walked out of our office and I frantically rushed to write everything down on a piece of paper.

I wrote the sixth item… then the first… then... nothing. I racked my brain to try and remember, but alas I could not do so. I only remembered two things and had wrongly written a few others like

- Feed the pandas

- Check on the zebras

(It was bad)

I quickly ran down the hall to see if she was still there and caught her before she walked out the door. I had my piece of paper and pen in hand, ready to write it down this time. Success.

Do I wish I was diagnosed?

Kind of, but not for the sake of having a diagnosis. It certainly would have helped me understand how I learn information and what supports and strategies I need to ensure I take on new conceptual information. In school, I knew I stunk at math so I avoided it at all costs. But I still tried my hardest – except for when I learnt how to write bad words upside-down on a calculator. That became a bit of an obsession for a while and it’s my only memory of 8th grade math. And it wasn’t just me! Ask any 13-year old kid what “58008” means in maths and they’ll tell you.

Often, a diagnosis is the only way to obtain a learning profile – an analysis of strengths and how to use those, as well as ideas and strategies to help make up for the areas of learning and processing that are a bit tricky.

A learning profile would have helped me and enabled me to use better strategies for learning- BIG LEAGUE. I had to work hard to get to where I’m at today and surrounded myself with amazing people. Now I actually love math and have become a bit of a regional dyscalculia expert because I know how these kids learn and why they struggle!

My how the tables have turned – literally. I’m now the one sitting on the other side of that “U-shaped” table, teaching kids who struggle with math.

I just don’t get to eat the marshmallows.

Next week: I'll be sharing a bit more about learning profiles, diagnostic tests and whether I think we are on the right track...


I highly recommend taking the StrengthsFinder Online Test. It changed the way I view myself and focus on my strengths rather than the societal obsession with fixing our weaknesses.

Marshmallow Teacher never called Marker Thief "Marker Thief", nor was her actual name "Marshmallow Teacher".