Early numerical cognition in deaf and hearing children: closer than expected?

Filipa Ribeiro*, Joana R. Rato, Rita Leonardo, Ana Mineiro

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review



Deaf students show a significant delay in their understanding of numeracy and measurement concepts as well as verbal problem solving. There is still no consensus about the origin of this delay but several studies have shown that deaf people show differences in basic numerical skills and executive function (EF), which could underlie the differences in the way they learn and develop their cognitive abilities. Children have the innate ability to estimate and compare numerosities without using language or numerical symbols. The ability to discriminate large numerosities depends on the approximate number system (ANS), a cognitive system believed to be governed by a neural circuit within the intraparietal sulcus. Researchers hypothesize that the ANS underlies the development of arithmetic and there is data supporting the contribution of the ANS for math achievements. Little is known about the approximate number system of deaf children at early ages. Deaf and hearing preschool children were compared in terms of specific cognitive functions shown to be important for success in mathematics. Executive functions and symbolic and nonsymbolic magnitude comparison abilities of 7 deaf children and 14 hearing children aged 4–7 years (M = 69.90 months, SD = 11.42), were compared. To do so, neuropsychological assessments for school-aged children were adapted into Portuguese Sign Language. Significant group differences were found in abstract counting as well as in symbolic and nonsymbolic magnitude comparisons. These findings suggest that deaf children are less competent in these early numeracy skills than are their hearing peers.
Translated title of the contributionEarly numerical cognition in deaf and hearing children: Closer than expected?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-133
Number of pages15
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Deaf children
  • Early age education
  • Neuropsychological assessment
  • Numerical cognition


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