Examining Cognitive Processing in Children with an Arithmetic Disability

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McDonald, Pamela
Arithmetic Disability , Executive Functioning , Phonological Processing
Currently there is no consensus as to the specific cognitive impairments that characterize mathematical disabilities (MD) or specific subtypes such as an arithmetic disability (AD). The present study sought to address this concern by examining cognitive processes that might undergird AD in children. The present study utilized archival data to conduct two investigations. The first investigation examined the executive functioning and working memory of children with AD. An age-matched achievement-matched design was employed to explore whether children with AD exhibit developmental lags or deficits in these cognitive domains. While children with AD did not exhibit impairments in verbal working memory or colour word inhibition, they did demonstrate impairments in shifting attention, visual-spatial working memory, and quantity inhibition. As children with AD did not perform more poorly than their younger achievement-matched peers on any of these tasks, impairments in specific areas of executive functioning and working memory appeared to reflect a developmental lag rather than a cognitive deficit. The second study examined the phonological processing performance of children with AD compared to children with comorbid disabilities in arithmetic and word recognition (AD/WRD) and to typically achieving (TA) children. Results indicated that, while children with AD did demonstrate impairments on all isolated naming speed tasks, trail making digits, and memory for digits, they did not demonstrate impairments on measures of phonological awareness, nonword repetition, serial processing speed, or serial naming speed. In contrast, children with AD/WRD demonstrated impairments on measures of phonological awareness, phonological short-term memory, isolated naming speed, serial processing speed, and the alphabet a-z task. Overall, results suggested that phonological processing impairments are more prominent in children with a WRD than children with an AD. Together, these studies further our understanding of the nature of the cognitive processes that underlie AD by focusing upon rarely used methods (i.e., age-matched achievement-matched design) and under-examined cognitive domains (i.e., phonological processing).
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