Preschool deficits in cardinal knowledge and executive function contribute to longer-term mathematical learning disability


In a preschool through first grade longitudinal study, we identified groups of children with persistently low mathematics achievement (n=14) and children with low achievement in preschool but average achievement in first grade (n=23). The preschool quantitative developments of these respective groups of children with mathematical learning disability (MLD) and recovered children and a group of typically achieving peers (n=35) were contrasted, as were their intelligence, executive function, and parental education levels. The core characteristics of the children with MLD were poor executive function and delayed understanding of the cardinal value of number words throughout preschool. These compounded into even more substantive deficits in number and arithmetic at the beginning of first grade. The recovered group had poor executive function and cardinal knowledge during the first year of preschool but showed significant gains during the second year. Despite these gains and average mathematics achievement, the recovered children had subtle deficits with accessing magnitudes associated with numerals and addition combinations (e.g., 5+6 = ) in first grade. The study provides unique insight into domain-general and quantitative deficits in preschool that increase risk for long-term mathematical difficulties.

Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 188, 104668