Number dyslexia hits one in 20 children
The Guardian: 11th September, 2003.
Dyscalculia, the arithmetical equivalent of dyslexia,
afflicts about one child in 20 in Britain and could make them cases for
special treatment, Brian Butterworth of University College London told the
British Association science festival at Salford yesterday.
Most people can recognise three or four objects without needing to count.
Dyscalculics cannot. They have trouble manipulating numbers at all.
"Our big success this year has been to get the government to recognise
dyscalculia," he said. "This could pave the way for funding to support
these kids. These kids find it difficult to count. They think that three
plus one is five. They might learn it by rote, but they do not understand
why it isn't five. They are misdiagnosed by their teachers as stupid, they
are misdiagnosed by their parents as stupid, they think of themselves as
stupid, other kids think they are stupid and the daily maths lesson is a
daily humiliation for them."
The ability to recognise numbers and see that some numbers or quantities
are larger than others is widespread across the animal kingdom: laboratory
experiments with monkeys and rats have confirmed that at least one region
of the brain has evolved to manipulate number. But some children,
competent in other ways, are afflicted by number blindness.
"We have done focus group studies with nine-year-old kids with this
condition and I found what they said heartbreaking, they feel so bad about
it," Prof Butterworth said. "If we can find a simple way of diagnosing
this, and alerting teachers and parents and kids themselves to the
problem, we can say it is just like colour blindness, it doesn't show you
"Maybe - we do not know this yet - they will never be very good at
calculating. However, we know dyscalculics who are good at statistics, who
are good at algebra, and we have recently been testing a young woman who
got a first class degree in philosophy, including first class marks on the
formal logic module, and she has severe dyscalculia."
Prof Butterworth told the conference that in an experiment involving
18,000 people, females were slightly quicker at recognising numbers than
males - but only up to three. He and Penny Fidler of the
science museum used a touch screen to test the numerical grasp of large
numbers of people.