I have autistic spectrum disorder / Asperger's syndrome (diagnosed by a psychiatrist). Also I have ADHD.

I have trouble processing information in an abstract way. I can only think visually. I am good at programming. I am bad at math.

I want to do computer science, but I am hesitant to do so because of the mathematics required, despite me being proficient in algorithms / programming in general.

I even have trouble processing questions. I have to go over the question 4 or 5 times to be able to understand it. This is probably also because of ADHD, and also when I am reading a question I have to have it visualised in my brain very clearly.

A lot of things in maths are abstract and cannot be visualised, but if they cannot be visualised I simply cannot learn them. I need to understand every tiny detail so I can internalise it in a logically consistent way. The most I've done is pre-calculus, and that was before I was diagnosed with ADHD, and I struggled in it. I am 20 right now, I think my IQ component relevant to numeracy is low.

In school, I would complete tasks in 1-2 minutes with ease, and the rest of the class may spend a whole lesson on them (e.g. in subjects such as economics). However, in maths, I always struggled. The other problem is that I have a short working memory but an excellent long term memory. If I like the subject, I get hyperfocused and excel in it a lot, but unfortunately I do not think I have ever felt that way with math.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for including the level of math that you've reached. Likewise, what level of programming have you achieved so far? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 22:19
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think saying you "cannot" do it is selling yourself short. It might be harder for you than for some, but with time and effort you will adapt. I strongly feel a good attitude is the first step to learning Math(s). $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 14:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Calculus and linear algebra both have beautiful visual interpretations. See 3blue1brown's videos on YouTube. $\endgroup$
    – auden
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ There may be some relevant information in this answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 12 at 12:58

1 Answer 1


'Visual' and 'abstract' are by no means opposites. I would be tempted to argue they are independent.

It depends on what you mean by 'doing maths', and also a bit on what you mean by 'thinking visually'. I tend to think in a visual way, and my research usually features lots of pictures, but there are other pictures in my head that are far too abstract to put on paper.

Some areas of maths are more naturally visual than others. Geometric topology, and some areas of geometry, can definitely be pictured (and are probably better done visually). You might like to look at knot theory, as some of that is very diagram-based. Other areas can be understood using visual means. For example, you can think about groups using Cayley graphs.

I don't know exactly what maths you will need for computer science, but if you are ok with algorithms I would think you could learn the material, provided you find the right way to go about it for you. Talk to the admissions tutor, get to talk to someone who actually knows about the teaching in the subject, and see if they are willing to work with you. You may well need to base your choices on where there are people who have the right attitude.

The two things I know of are likely to come up are:

  1. geometry using matrices (pretty visual in 2d/3d; there might be a need to think in more dimensions);

  2. databases using relations (can be thought of visually, at least to some extent, or just in terms of examples).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Most university CS programs of which I'm aware (in the U.S.) do require 3 semesters of calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 22:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Personally I think of calculus and linear algebra visually, although to do that requires more understanding than many students try for. You might like to look at Wolfram Demonstrations, eg demonstrations.wolfram.com/… $\endgroup$
    – Jessica B
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielR.Collins - wow, maybe you mean EECS programs? Straight-up programs probably mostly follow ACM recommendations, which is a discrete math course ... and the rest is up to them (see acm.org/education/CS2013-final-report.pdf). A semester or two of calculus and linear algebra seems to be typical to me; perhaps at Research I ODE is a weed-out course ... $\endgroup$
    – kcrisman
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ @kcrisman: Those math requirements I stated are what's needed just for a 2-year associate's degree in CS at the community college where I teach (part of CUNY). Just picking one other data point, CECS at USC (supposedly one of the largest) has the exact same under "pre-major requirements" (cs.usc.edu/academics/undergrad/…), etc. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ USC is not a typical program, and note this is "computer engineering" - a year of physics, really? I would imagine CUNY for transfer credit similarly ... So maybe this is a significant difference between those situated in CS-only depts. and engineering-related depts. $\endgroup$
    – kcrisman
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 0:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.