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