A poor "gut sense" of numbers may be a sign of a maths learning disability, a new study suggests.
Researchers had 71 Grade 9 learners enrolled in a 10-year study of maths achievement perform tasks that measured their innate sense of numbers, such as asking them to guess how many dots were on a page without having time to actually count them.
Researchers also divided the students into four groups: those shown to have a maths learning disability over the course of the decade-long study, those ranked below average, average or above average in maths achievement.
Students who had a maths learning disability did significantly worse at estimating how many dots were on the page.
Why some kids struggle with maths more than others
"Some children have a remarkably imprecise intuitive sense of numbers, and we believe these children have maths learning disability, at least in part, due to deficits in this intuitive type of number sense," Michele Mazzocco, director of the Math Skills Development Project at Kennedy Krieger Institute, said.
The study is published in the journal Child Development.
Although they do well in other subjects, up to 14% of school-aged children have continuing trouble with maths. There can be multiple causes, including issues with spatial reasoning, working memory or "number sense," which includes the ability to approximate numbers.
"A key message for parents and teachers is that children vary in the precision of their intuitive sense of numbers. We might take for granted that every child perceives numbers with roughly comparable precision, but this assumption would be false. Some students may need more practise, or different kinds of practise, to develop this number sense," noted Mazzocco.
"At the same time, if a child is struggling with mathematics at school, we should not assume that the child's difficulty is tied to a poor number sense; this is just one possibility," she added.
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