The study examined whether developmental deficits in reading and numerical skills could be expressed in terms of global factors by reference to the rate and amount (RAM) and difference engine (DEM) models. From a sample of 325 fifth grade children, we identified 5 children with dyslexia, 16 with dyscalculia, 7 with a "mixed pattern," and 49 control children. Children were asked to read aloud words presented individually that varied for frequency and length and to respond (either vocally or manually) to a series of simple number tasks (addition, subtraction, number reading, and number comparisons). Reaction times were measured. Results indicated that the deficit of children with dyscalculia and children with a mixed pattern on numerical tasks could be explained by a single global factor, similarly to the reading deficit shown by children with dyslexia. As predicted by the DEM, increases in task difficulty were accompanied by a corresponding increase in inter-individual variability for both the reading and numerical tasks. These relationships were constant across the four groups of children but differed in terms of slope and intercept on the x-axis, indicating that two different general rules underlie performance in reading and numerical skills. The study shows for the first time that, as previously shown for reading, also numerical performance can be explained with reference to a global factor. The advantage of this approach is that it takes into account the over-additivity effect, i.e., the presence of larger group differences in the case of more difficult conditions over and above the characteristics of the experimental conditions. It is concluded that reference to models such as the RAM and DEM can be useful in delineating the characteristics of the dyscalculic deficit as well as in the description of co-morbid disturbances, as in the case of dyslexia and dyscalculia.
- Numerical cognition
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