Developmental dyscalculia and low numeracy in Chinese children

Wai Lan Winnie CHAN, Terry K. AU, Joey TANG

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Children struggle with mathematics for different reasons. Developmental dyscalculia and low numeracy - two kinds of mathematical difficulties - may have their roots, respectively, in poor understanding of exact non-symbolic numerosities and of symbolic numerals. This study was the first to explore whether Chinese children, despite cultural and linguistic factors supporting their mathematical learning, also showed such mathematical difficulties and whether such difficulties have measurable impact on children's early school mathematical performance. First-graders, classified as dyscalculia, low numeracy, or normal achievement, were compared for their performance in various school mathematical tasks requiring a grasp of non-symbolic numerosities (i.e., non-symbolic tasks) or an understanding of symbolic numerals (i.e., symbolic tasks). Children with dyscalculia showed poorer performance than their peers in non-symbolic tasks but not symbolic ones, whereas those with low numeracy showed poorer performance in symbolic tasks but not non-symbolic ones. As hypothesized, these findings suggested that dyscalculia and low numeracy were distinct deficits and caused by deficits in non-symbolic and symbolic processing, respectively. These findings went beyond prior research that only documented generally low mathematical achievements for these two groups of children. Moreover, these deficits appeared to be persistent and could not be remedied simply through day-to-day school mathematical learning. The present findings highlighted the importance of tailoring early learning support for children with these distinct deficits, and pointed to future directions for the screening of such mathematical difficulties among Chinese children. Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1613-1622
JournalResearch in Developmental Disabilities
Issue number5
Early online dateMar 2013
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


Chan, W. W. L., Au, T. K., & Tang, J. (2013). Developmental dyscalculia and low numeracy in Chinese children. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(5), 1613-1622. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2013.01.030


  • Dyscalculia
  • Low numeracy
  • Mathematical achievement
  • Symbolic processing
  • Non-symbolic processing


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