Get access

Impaired Acuity of the Approximate Number System Underlies Mathematical Learning Disability (Dyscalculia)


  • This research received partial support from Grant RO1 HD34061-01-09 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

concerning this article should be addressed to Michèle Mazzocco, Math Skills Development Project, 3825 Greenspring Avenue, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, MD 21211. Electronic mail may be sent to


Many children have significant mathematical learning disabilities (MLD, or dyscalculia) despite adequate schooling. The current study hypothesizes that MLD partly results from a deficiency in the Approximate Number System (ANS) that supports nonverbal numerical representations across species and throughout development. In this study of 71 ninth graders, it is shown that students with MLD have significantly poorer ANS precision than students in all other mathematics achievement groups (low, typically, and high achieving), as measured by psychophysical assessments of ANS acuity (w) and of the mappings between ANS representations and number words (cv). This relation persists even when controlling for domain-general abilities. Furthermore, this ANS precision does not differentiate low-achieving from typically achieving students, suggesting an ANS deficit that is specific to MLD.