Giovanni Anobile, Mariaelisa Bartoli, Gabriele Masi, Annalisa Tacchi and Francesca Tinelli
Math difficulties in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder do not originate from the visual number sense
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
There is ample evidence from literature and clinical practice indicating mathematical difficulties in individuals with ADHD, even when there is no concomitant diagnosis of developmental dyscalculia. What factors underlie these difficulties is still an open question. Research on dyscalculia and neurotypical development suggests visual perception of numerosity (the number sense) as a building block for math learning. Participants with lower numerosity estimation thresholds (higher precision) are often those with higher math capabilities. Strangely, the role of numerosity perception in math skills in ADHD has been neglected, leaving open the question whether math difficulties in ADHD also originate from a deficitary visual number sense. In the current study we psychophysically measured numerosity thresholds and accuracy in a sample of children/adolescents with ADHD, but not concomitant dyscalculia (N = 20, 8–16 years). Math abilities were also measured by tasks indexing different mathematical competences. Numerosity performance and math scores were then compared to those obtained from an age-matched control group (N = 20). Bayesian statistics indicated no difference between ADHD and controls on numerosity perception, despite many of the symbolic math tasks being impaired in participants with ADHD. Moreover, the math deficits showed by the group with ADHD remained substantial even when numerosity thresholds were statistically regressed out. Overall, these results indicate that math difficulties in ADHD are unlikely to originate from an impaired visual number sense.