Math Ability in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Friday, May 18, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
2:00 PM
M. Brosnan1, E. L. Ashwin2, H. Johnson3, B. Grawemeyer4 and L. Benton3, (1)University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, (2)Psychology, Bath University, Bath, United Kingdom, (3)Bath University, Bath, United Kingdom, (4)Computer Science, Bath University, Bath, United Kingdom
Background: Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterised by a triad of impairments afflicting social interaction, verbal communication and imagination. However, recent evidence suggests that alongside these deficits may exist strengths in the ability to systemise: to deal with concepts that have definitive rules, such as mathematics, physics and computers. However, the relationship between systematic abilities and how this may influence ability in different sub-topics of mathematics remains unclear. This study examined math ability in three core areas: number, geometry and statistics. We reasoned that given the difficulties with verbal context and abstract concepts associated with ASD, apparent strengths in mathematics may be largely due to performance in less verbally embedded topics such as number and geometry.

Objectives: To test the relationship between systemising strengths and performance on the sub-topics of a standardised mathematics task in individuals with and without ASD.

Methods: 23 children with ASD and 23 without ASD aged 11-15 were recruited from local specialist and mainstream schools respectively. The groups were matched for age, verbal IQ and sex. All the children completed the Systemising Quotient (SQ) and a standardised math task (comprising number, geometry and statistics questions) compiled from a bank of national curriculum questions.

Results: Systemising abilities, as measured by the SQ, showed a significant positive correlation with overall performance on the mathematics task for the ASD group. Overall, the ASD group scored lower on the mathematics task relative to the non-ASD groups. However, further analysis showed this could be attributed to relatively poorer performance on the statistics component relative to the topics of number and geometry.

Conclusions: Overall, the findings suggest that systemising ability in ASD is positively related to maths ability. However, whilst individuals with ASD may have a propensity for mathematics, this may be influenced by the format in which it is presented. This may have implications for classroom teaching and suggest ways in which more verbal and abstract topics may be presented to facilitate learning.

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