Mathematical Brain
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Naze sugaku ga tokui na hito to nigate na hito ga 
(Why are some people good, but others bad at maths?)

Mathematical Brain
Brian Butterworth
British Association
The Guardian
Number dyslexia hits one in 20 children

Tim Radford

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 are stupid.

"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 explore@bristol science museum used a touch screen to test the numerical grasp of large numbers of people.


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