Domain-Specific Training Improves Math Proficiency for Children with Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Conditions

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
E. L. Clark1, D. Tullo1, J. Faubert2 and A. Bertone1, (1)McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada, (2)Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada
Background: Math ability is integral to academic success and predicts overall achievement at later grades, therefore methods for improving math ability are crucial (Claessens & Engel, 2013). Domain-general attentional skills have demonstrated importance for math proficiency for typically developing (TD) children and children with neurodevelopmental conditions (NDCs; Cragg & Gilmore, 2014). Given the role of attention in math proficiency, it follows that attention-based interventions have the potential to demonstrate far-transfer effects; that is, improved attention resulting in improved math proficiency. While domain-specific interventions targeting math skills have been effective at improving proficiency for children with autism (Cihak & Foust, 2008), research has yet to compare the effectiveness of domain-general (attention) vs. domain-specific (math) interventions for math proficiency in NDC populations.

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to assess whether interventions targeting domain-specific math skills or domain-general attention skills can improve mathematics proficiency in young students with a NDC.

Methods: We recruited 36 students with a NDC diagnosis (nASD=21, nNon-ASD[ADHD,ID] =15). Pre-test measures of attentional abilities and mathematical proficiency were obtained using The Conners’ Continuous Performance Test 3rd Edition (CPT-III) and the Easy Curriculum-Based Measure Numerical Operations subtest (EasyCBM), respectively. Students were equally and randomly divided into 3 groups (math and attention treatment groups, and a passive control group). Participants in the attention treatment group were trained on an attention-based multiple-object tracking (MOT) task. MOT involves visually tracking a set of target objects while ignoring distractor items for eight seconds. The math treatment group trained with a computerized math-based strategy task, 2048. In the math-based task, students are faced with numbers in a grid and must combine identical numbers to create multiples, ultimately working to get the sum 2048. All groups completed post-testing (CPT-III, EasyCBM) after training.

Results: Students who completed the MOT task demonstrated improvements in attention that transferred to performance on the CPT-III (Tullo, Faubert & Bertone, 2018). Training on 2048 did not have an effect on attention. A mixed-model ANOVA was conducted to assess group by time interaction for the effects of training on math proficiency. There was no significant main effect of time, but there was a significant effect of group, p=.028, partial h2 = .207. Furthermore, there was a significant interaction of group and time p = 0.033, partial h2 = .198. Post-hoc analyses revealed that the group that completed 2048 demonstrated significant improvements in performance on the EasyCBM at post-test compared to both the MOT and passive control group. The MOT group and control group were not significantly different.

Conclusions: Results indicated that training on MOT improved attention, but this did not have a far-transfer effect to improving math performance. This suggests far-transfer effects of attention training to math proficiency are not immediately evident in young students with NDCs. Alternatively, engaging with 2048, a number-based strategy task, resulted in improved math performance in the area of numerical operations. Thus, interventions targeting domain-specific math skills, as opposed to domain-general attentional skills, result in improved performance on tasks of math proficiency for young students with NDCs.