Complexities in Identifying and Defining Mathematics Learning Disability in the Primary School-Age Years

Ann Dyslexia. 2003 Jan 1;53(1):218-253. doi: 10.1007/s11881-003-0011-7.


This paper is a descriptive report of findings from a prospective longitudinal study of math disability (MD). The study was designed to address the incidence of MD during primary school, the utility of different MD definitions, and evidence of MD subtypes. The results illustrate the dynamic properties of psychometrically derived definitions of MD. Different groups of children meet criteria for MD depending on which measure(s) are used for identification. Over time, a given individual may not continue to meet MD criteria, even when using the same assessments. Thus, the findings lead to cautions regarding the single-tool/ one-time assessment for a clinical diagnosis of MD. Twenty-two of 209 participants demonstrated "persistent MD" (MD-p), or MD for more than one school grade. Reading disability was relatively more frequent in this MD-p subgroup than in the remaining participants (25 percent vs. 7 percent). Reading-related skills were correlated with math achievement, as were select visual spatial skills. There was minimal overlap between groups who met either a "poor achievement" criteria or an "IQ-achievement discrepancy," and the latter was far less stable a measure over time than the former. The results highlight the complexities of defining MD and illustrate the need for more research in this area.