Cognitive Impairments of Children with Severe Arithmetic Difficulties: Cognitive Deficit or Developmental Lag?

Derek H. Berg

Abstract


An age-matched—achievement-matched design was utilized to examine the cognitive functioning of children with severe arithmetic difficulties. A battery of cognitive tasks was administered to three groups of elementary aged children: 20 children with severe arithmetic difficulties (SAD), 20 children matched in age (CAM) to the children with SAD, and 20 younger children matched in arithmetic achievement (AAM) to the children with SAD. Measures were related to processing speed, short-term memory, verbal working memory, and visual-spatial working memory. Results suggest three important findings. First, in contrast to previous studies, children with SAD did not show a processing speed impairment. Second, children with SAD were impaired in short-term memory for numerical and non-numerical information. And third, while children with SAD displayed working memory impairments, these impairments were not uniform within verbal working memory or visual-spatial working. Taken together, findings indicate that previous studies which have reported differences between children with SAD and their normally achieving peers might have overestimated or mischaracterized the differential cognitive functioning of these groups. Results are discussed within a framework that views the cognitive functioning impairments of children with SAD as representative of a developmental lag rather than a cognitive deficit.

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