Children's inability to automatically retrieve building blocks of language, math leads to learning disabilities in reading, writing, arithmetic

BOSTON - For children with learning disabilities success at reading and mathematics isn't always as easy as learning their ABCs or that two plus two equals four. That's because some youngsters have difficulty automatically retrieving such basic building blocks as letters, words, numbers and mathematical facts.

A new study by University of Washington researchers, comparing children with a reading disability to those with dual reading and math calculation disabilities, indicates that this inability to rapidly retrieve basic information leads to impaired ability across the three domains of reading, writing and math.

The study also provides new evidence that there are distinct subtypes of learning disabilities and that specialized interventions may be required to help children overcome these different kinds of disabilities.

These findings will be presented here today at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association by Julie Busse, a UW educational psychology doctoral student. The results come from a larger study looking at the family genetics of learning disabilities headed by Virginia Berninger, UW professor of educational psychology. The work is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The inability to rapidly and automatically retrieve and identify the building blocks of language and math forces children to use more cognitive resources to recall basic material. This, in turn, means their attention is not focused on higher thinking processes such as comprehension and problem solving, according to Berninger and Busse.

They liken learning to read and do math to mastering how to drive a car.

"There are certain things we need to learn to operate a car, such as shifting gears and when to switch on a turn signal. Many of these become automatic so we can be alert to other drivers and conditions on the road," says Berninger.

"This is

Contact: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington

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