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Res Dev Disabil. 2014 Mar;35(3):657-70. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2013.12.010. Epub 2014 Jan 22.

Cognitive subtypes of mathematics learning difficulties in primary education.

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Top Institute for Evidence Based Education Research, Maastricht University, P.O. Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands. Electronic address:
Numerical Cognition Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, Westminster Hall, London, ON, Canada N6A 3K7. Electronic address:
Department of Cognitive Neuroscience, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, and Maastricht Brain Imaging Centre (M-BIC), 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands.


It has been asserted that children with mathematics learning difficulties (MLD) constitute a heterogeneous group. To date, most researchers have investigated differences between predefined MLD subtypes. Specifically MLD children are frequently categorized a priori into groups based on the presence or absence of an additional disorder, such as a reading disorder, to examine cognitive differences between MLD subtypes. In the current study 226 third to six grade children (M age=131 months) with MLD completed a selection of number specific and general cognitive measures. The data driven approach was used to identify the extent to which performance of the MLD children on these measures could be clustered into distinct groups. In particular, after conducting a factor analysis, a 200 times repeated K-means clustering approach was used to classify the children's performance. Results revealed six distinguishable clusters of MLD children, specifically (a) a weak mental number line group, (b) weak ANS group, (c) spatial difficulties group, (d) access deficit group, (e) no numerical cognitive deficit group and (f) a garden-variety group. These findings imply that different cognitive subtypes of MLD exist and that these can be derived from data-driven approaches to classification. These findings strengthen the notion that MLD is a heterogeneous disorder, which has implications for the way in which intervention may be tailored for individuals within the different subtypes.


Basic cognitive processing skills; Cognitive subtypes; Mathematics learning difficulties; Primary school children

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