Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 1268–1281 | Cite as

Distinctive Role of Symbolic Number Sense in Mediating the Mathematical Abilities of Children with Autism

  • Alexis Hiniker
  • Miriam Rosenberg-LeeEmail author
  • Vinod MenonEmail author
Original Paper


Despite reports of mathematical talent in autism spectrum disorders (ASD), little is known about basic number processing abilities in affected children. We investigated number sense, the ability to rapidly assess quantity information, in 36 children with ASD and 61 typically developing controls. Numerical acuity was assessed using symbolic (Arabic numerals) as well as non-symbolic (dot array) formats. We found significant impairments in non-symbolic acuity in children with ASD, but symbolic acuity was intact. Symbolic acuity mediated the relationship between non-symbolic acuity and mathematical abilities only in children with ASD, indicating a distinctive role for symbolic number sense in the acquisition of mathematical proficiency in this group. Our findings suggest that symbolic systems may help children with ASD organize imprecise information.


Number sense Autism spectrum disorders Math ability 



We thank Katherine Cheng, Amirah Khouzam, Sasha Spivak, and Amanda Baker for their assistance in data collection and organization. We also thank the participants and their families for their time and effort. This work was supported by a Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health (MH101394) to Miriam Rosenberg-Lee, and National Institutes of Health (MH084164, HD047520) to Vinod Menon.

Author Contributions

AH participated in the statistical analysis and interpretation of the data, and drafted the manuscript; MRL conceived of the study, participated in its design, coordination and statistical analysis, and helped to draft the manuscript; MV conceived of the study, participated in its design, and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Supplementary material

10803_2015_2666_MOESM1_ESM.docx (461 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 461 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  2. 2.School of EducationStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Stanford Neuroscience InstituteStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  4. 4.Department of Neurology and Neurological SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  5. 5.Symbolic Systems ProgramStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  6. 6.Human Centered Design and EngineeringUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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