Mathematics Disability vs. Learning Disability: A 360 Degree Analysis

Roderick Ian Nicolson, Angela Jocelyn Fawcett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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A fundamental issue for research in mathematics disability (MD) and reading disability (RD) is: If these disabilities are clearly distinct, why is there so high a level of comorbidity, together with the converse; if these disabilities are so similar, why are there clear differences in underlying causes and aetiology? In order to address this puzzle, we introduce the “360 degree analysis” (360DA) framework and apply it to the overlap between RD and MD. The 360DA process starts by analyzing the issue from four perspectives: theoretical, developmental, affective, and pedagogical. Under 360DA, these analyses are then integrated to provide insights for theory, and for individual assessment and support, together with directions for future progress. The analyses confirm extensive similarities between arithmetic and reading development in terms of rote learning, executive function (EF), and affective trauma, but also major differences in terms of the conceptual needs, the motor coordination needs, and the methods of scaffolding. In terms of theory, commonalities are interpreted naturally in terms of initial general developmental delay followed by domain-independent affective trauma following school failure. Dissociations are interpreted in terms of cerebellar vs. hippocampal learning networks, sequential vs. spatial processing, and language vs. spatial scaffolding, with a further dimension of the need for accurate fixation for reading. The framework has significant theoretical and applied implications.
Original languageEnglish
Article number725694
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Early online date24 Sept 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Sept 2021


  • Psychology
  • mathematics disability
  • reading disability
  • learning and skill acquisition
  • affective
  • developmental


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