Misery of pupils who can't count
John von Radowitz
The Western Mail: 11th September, 2003.
A forgotten group of children are living in misery because they cannot
count, a leading expert said yesterday.
An estimated 5% of children suffer from dyscalculia - a problem just as
serious as dyslexia but still hardly recognised, said Professor Brian
Dyscalculic children are born with an inability to do even the simplest
sums. They might think three plus one equals five, for instance, and find
it difficult to count.
Most teachers have not heard of dyscalculia, and educational experts have
only just started to acknowledge it, said Prof Butterworth, a cognitive
neuropsychologist from University College London.
He described the plight of children with the disability at Britain's
biggest science meeting at Salford University.
"They are being misdiagnosed by their teachers as stupid, their parents
think they're stupid, other kids think they're stupid," he told the
British Association Festival of Science.
"The maths lesson is a daily humiliation for them. It's heartbreaking."
He said it was possible these children would never be good at calculation.
But there were dyscalculics who excelled at statistics and algebra. It was
possible for them to use mathematics - as long as they were in reach of a
"I would like to see children with dyscalculia get special support, in the
same way as children with dyslexia," said Prof Butterworth.
He said children could be screened for dyscalculia using a counting test
similar to one he had used for a large-scale public experiment at
Bristol's Science Museum.
Almost 20,000 people took part in the experiment, in which they were asked
to indicate whether a numeral corresponded to a display of dots.
Participants answered by touching either an cross or a tick on a screen,
and their responses were timed.
The experiment found that when the dots were placed on the left of the
screen subjects were 6% faster - indicating that the right side of their
brains were active. This was only true for five dots or more.
Women turned out to be significantly faster than men when instantly
guessing numbers of dots from one to three, but not from four to 10.