Study Spots Early Signs of Math Disabilities in Kids

Certain difficulties in kindergarten predicted problems by fifth grade

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 9 (HealthDay News) -- A number of factors associated with math disability in children have been identified by researchers.

The study included 177 children in 12 public schools in Missouri who were tested one to three times a year from kindergarten through fifth grade.

The results showed that those who had trouble understanding the fundamental concept of exact numerical quantities -- for example, that the printed numeral 3 represents three dots on a page -- when they started school were diagnosed with a math learning disability by fifth grade.

Additional early factors associated with a math learning disability included: difficulty recalling answers to single-digit addition problems; distractibility in class; and difficulty understanding complex math problems that can be broken down into smaller problems that can be solved individually.

The students with a math disability did make limited progress but, by fifth grade, were not at the level of their classmates in being able to recall number facts or in their ease of adding sets of dots and numerals together. The math-disabled students did match their classmates in other areas by fifth grade, such as the use of counting to solve problems.

It's not clear whether the factors identified in the study actually cause math disability or are associated with other, unidentified factors, the University of Missouri researchers noted.

The study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, was funded by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

"The search for factors underlying difficulty learning mathematics is extremely important," Kathy Mann Koepke, director of the NICHD's Mathematics and Science Cognition and Learning Development and Disorders program, said in an institute news release. "Once we identify such factors, the hope is that we can modify them through appropriate teaching methods to help people who have difficulty learning and using math," Mann Koepke added.

"Math skills are important for higher education and for entry into many higher paying technical fields," she noted. "Math skills have many health implications. For example, many American adults lack even the basic math skills necessary to estimate the appropriate number of calories in their diets or to calculate the time intervals at which to take their medications."

More information

Michigan State University has more about math disability.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, news release, October 2011

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