Daniel Ansari, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the Univeristy of Western Ontario, is using brain imaging to to study the brains of children with math difficulties (dyscalculia) to establish what differences exist between the brains of those who have just maths problems and those who have both maths and reading difficulties.
Although many children have both dyscalculia and dyslexia, those with developmental dyscalculia show atypical activation patterns in a part of the brain called the parietal cortex.

Children with dyscalculia often have difficulty understanding numerical quantity and connecting abstract symbols, such as a number, to the numerical magnitude it represents. They can't see the connection, for instance, between five fingers and the number '5'. This is similar to children with dyslexia who have difficulty connecting sounds with letters.

Ansari says parents and teachers are often not aware that dyscalculia is just as common as dyslexia and is frequently related to it and that there is a great need to increase awareness and understanding. A teacher who understands brain structure and function will be better equipped to interpret children's behaviours from a scientific point of view, and adapt the way they teach.

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First Published in November 2008

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