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J Learn Disabil. 2017 Nov/Dec;50(6):672-683. doi: 10.1177/0022219416640783. Epub 2016 Mar 25.

The Mental Number Line in Dyscalculia: Impaired Number Sense or Access From Symbolic Numbers?

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1 Université Laval, Faculté de médecine, Québec, Canada.
2 Centre de Recherche de l'Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Québec, Canada.
3 Centre Interdisciplinaire de Recherche en Réadaptation et Intégration Sociale, Québec, Canada.


Numbers may be manipulated and represented mentally over a compressible number line oriented from left to right. According to numerous studies, one of the primary reasons for dyscalculia is related to improper understanding of the mental number line. Children with dyscalculia usually show difficulty when they have to place Arabic numbers on a physical number line. However, it remains unclear whether they have a deficit with the mental number line per se or a deficit with accessing it from nonsymbolic and/or symbolic numbers. Quebec French-speaking 8- to 9-year-old children with (24) and without (37) dyscalculia were assessed with transcoding tasks ( number-to-position and position-to-number) designed to assess the acuity of the mental number line with Arabic and spoken numbers as well as with analogic numerosities. Results showed that children with dyscalculia produced a larger percentage absolute error than children without mathematics difficulties in every task except the number-to-position transcoding task with analogic numerosities. Hence, these results suggested that children with dyscalculia do not have a general deficit of the mental number line but rather a deficit with accessing it from symbolic numbers.


dyscalculia; estimation; nonsymbolic numerosities; number line; number line acuity; symbolic numbers

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