Dyspraxia and Maths Difficulties

Happy New Year everyone! I honestly can’t believe I have now been blogging for over 5 years! Although I haven’t posted as much recently, I’m hoping I’ll be able to be a bit more active on my blog this year. This post is one I actually started writing earlier last year, back in March! My Master’s, particularly my dissertation, then kind of took over and I just never got round to finishing it. This post is in fact related to my Master’s though, as it’s based off something that was mentioned in one of my lectures (I was sat there in the lecture trying to not get distracted by planning this blog post in my head…). The lecture was on number development, where it was mentioned that individuals with dyspraxia often show difficulties with maths and the reason behind this was explained.

This blog post is more from the perspective of being interested in psychology (cognitive psychology is one of my favourite areas of psychology) and, obviously, dyspraxia – as opposed to it being from personal experience. As I always point out, everyone with dyspraxia is different. Many people with dyspraxia have difficulties with maths. Personally, I’ve not found this to be the case and generally did well in maths at school. Although I did struggle a bit when it came to things involving visualising.

I have to admit, I’ve probably been a bit too quick to make assumptions when other people with dyspraxia have said they’ve struggled with maths due to dyspraxia. I’ve never understood how dyspraxia could be linked to difficulties with maths. I thought that, understandably, it would affect things involving fine motor skills and spatial awareness, such as drawing shapes and graphs, but I didn’t understand how it could cause maths difficulties in general. I kind of just assumed it was just the same sorts of difficulties that neurotypicals sometimes have with maths. I admit, I was wrong to have made those assumptions but hopefully by writing this post it will help other people to understand this. As someone who has studied psychology, I’m always interested in the ‘why?’ aspect of things. What is it about dyspraxia that causes people to find maths difficult?

Research carried out in 2011 found that in a sample of 43 children with dyspraxia (the research paper used the term DCD), 88% showed difficulties with maths [1]. This was based off their school reports, which showed that they were under-achieving in maths. This paper suggested that the reason for this was due to difficulties with geometry or writing out sums correctly, as I mentioned above. Although the number of participants was small and this was just one study, it does suggest that maths is something that a lot of people with dyspraxia struggle with! There have also been other reasons put forward for this difficulty.

One reason is that dyspraxia affects working-memory. Working memory is the ability to hold information (like numbers) in our head and then do something with that information, such as adding the numbers together. That reminds me of some literal thinking of mine! When I was in year 1 of primary school, my teacher would tell us to ‘put a number in our head’ – to which I would literally put my hand up to my head as if I was putting the number inside! It must have been quite amusing to see…

Working memory is slightly different to short term memory, as working memory involves doing something with the information in addition to retaining it. Difficulties with working memory have been linked to difficulties with maths, for obvious reasons! So that is one reason why people with dyspraxia may have difficulties with maths, particularly mental maths. Research has backed this up too [2].

In my lecture they mentioned that the reason individuals with dyspraxia often experience difficulties with maths is due to the visuospatial difficulties (this is the ability to visualise things) we experience. This means that we find it difficult to form a ‘mental number line’ (a bit like this):

Having looked into the research more for the purpose of writing this blog post, I’ve come to realise that it is not straightforward at all! Summarising research is hard when the findings are conflicting, but I’ll try as best as I can. I think it’s also an area of research where there is a lot still yet to be found out. One research paper found that children with dyspraxia were able to place numbers on a number line using a linear method (meaning they understood that the difference between each consecutive number on the number line was equal, regardless of where on the line it was) but were slower and less accurate when it came to estimating where a number would be [3]. For example, they would be given a diagram like this and would be asked to estimate which number was in the position of X – which they had difficulty with.

This is believed to be linked to difficulties with representing numbers in terms of their magnitude (non-symbolic number representation) [4]. Linking these two things together, a research paper has found that individuals with dyspraxia experience difficulties with symbolic and non-symbolic number processing. (symbolic number processing being the way we process symbols in maths, i.e. the numerical digits) [5].

Interestingly, it has also been found that some people with cerebral palsy struggle with maths – again, more so than the general population. Similarly to those with dyspraxia, this has been linked to a few things, including visual perception and short term memory difficulties [6].

Some dyspraxics may experience difficulties with maths as part of their dyspraxia, for the reasons I have explained above, whilst others may have an additional diagnosis of dyscalculia – a specific learning difficulty causing severe difficulties with maths.

I didn’t want to go into too much detail about all the research in this post – after all it is a blog post and not an essay! But hopefully it’s been interesting for you to read and has helped in some way. I’ve had dyspraxia all my life and I’m still learning new things about it! As I said at the beginning of this post though, it is important to remember that everyone with dyspraxia is different. Although the research I mentioned earlier found that 88% of the dyspraxic children they studied had maths difficulties, remember that also means that 12% of the dyspraxic children showed no difficulties with maths. So don’t assume that every dyspraxic will struggle with maths, but equally bear in mind that some dyspraxics will struggle with maths and it’s not due to ‘not trying hard enough’!

Natalie 🙂

References:

[1] Vaivre-Douret, L., Lalanne, C., Ingster-Moati, I., Boddaert, N., Cabrol, D., Dufier, J. L., … & Falissard, B. (2011). Subtypes of developmental coordination disorder: research on their nature and etiology. Developmental neuropsychology, 36(5), 614-643.

[2] Friso-Van Den Bos, I., Van Der Ven, S. H., Kroesbergen, E. H., & Van Luit, J. E. (2013). Working memory and mathematics in primary school children: A meta-analysis. Educational research review, 10, 29-44.

[3] Gomez, A., Piazza, M., Jobert, A., Dehaene-Lambertz, G., & Huron, C. (2017). Numerical abilities of school-age children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD): A behavioral and eye-tracking study. Human movement science, 55, 315-326.

[4] Feigenson, L., Dehaene, S., & Spelke, E. (2004). Core systems of number. Trends in cognitive sciences, 8(7), 307-314.

[5] Gomez, A., Piazza, M., Jobert, A., Dehaene-Lambertz, G., Dehaene, S., & Huron, C. (2015). Mathematical difficulties in developmental coordination disorder: Symbolic and nonsymbolic number processing. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 43, 167-178.

[6] Critten, V., Campbell, E., Farran, E., & Messer, D. (2018). Visual perception, visual-spatial cognition and mathematics: Associations and predictions in children with cerebral palsy. Research in developmental disabilities, 80, 180-191.

13 thoughts on “Dyspraxia and Maths Difficulties

Add yours

  1. OMG thank you for posting this! Now I get that’s its my ‘working memory’ that’s totally bobbins. My maths struggles are for the same reason I struggle with following directions or when typing I get the letters or sentence in the wrong order, or why I can’t follow a tiny list of instructions. I knew it wasn’t the actual numbers!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this post Natalie. Very good at explaining in a clear way – difficult with cognitive psychology sometimes ;). My PhD thesis found something similar – my own difficulties with working memory being the inspiration for my research. I find working out dates and times extremely difficult and can see why that may be from your descriptions. Keep on giving us info – we need to get the understanding out there! Xx

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It was called “ Education-related learning difficulties and working memory functioning.” Looking at working memory differences in dyslexia, dyspraxia, adhd, case studies and so forth. Covered ages 7 years and upwards.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have dyspraxia but do not struggle with math – I’m doing math 2 grade levels above my actual grade. I’m also autistic.

    Like

  4. Recently, a psychologist said it’s quite possible that I have nonverbal learning disorder.
    I did a little searching, and found that it’s quite common that those with this have a discrepancy between powerful verbal skills and relatively weaker social, visual-spatial, and motor skills. Academically, the weakest skill is generally maths – I can agree with that.
    Would it be unreasonable for me to suggest you write a blog post comparing UK dyspraxia and North American NVLD? From what I can see, they seem to be two names for the same neurotype.

    Like

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