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Words count in maths;Research update

Children with learning disabilities who appear to have problems with basic maths may really be suffering from language disorders, says a professor of learning disabilities from Hunter College, New York.

Katherine Garnett has found that because arithmetic work at primary level relies heavily on remembering verbal information, as well as procedural skills and directions, language problems are easily masked. But investigations show that language-based difficulties with maths are "as prevalent as dyslexia", although they aren't given the same recognition.

Teachers need to be aware of the differences between the two and distinguish between those who have an ability with numbers, even though they have trouble with arithmetic, and those with genuine difficulties in getting to grips with maths.

She suggests that teachers use visual signs and games when focusing on the basic number system to ensure that those with language disorders are able to access information.

Hunter College, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA. www.hunter.cuny.edu

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