Clinical and Cognitive Characteristics Associated with Mathematics Problem Solving in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Tasha M. Oswald, Jonathan S. Beck, Ana-Maria Iosif, James B. Mccauley, Leslie J. Gilhooly, John C. Matter, Marjorie Solomon Friedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Mathematics achievement in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been understudied. However, the ability to solve applied math problems is associated with academic achievement, everyday problem-solving abilities, and vocational outcomes. The paucity of research on math achievement in ASD may be partly explained by the widely-held belief that most individuals with ASD are mathematically gifted, despite emerging evidence to the contrary. The purpose of the study was twofold: to assess the relative proportions of youth with ASD who demonstrate giftedness versus disability on applied math problems, and to examine which cognitive (i.e., perceptual reasoning, verbal ability, working memory) and clinical (i.e., test anxiety) characteristics best predict achievement on applied math problems in ASD relative to typically developing peers. Twenty-seven high-functioning adolescents with ASD and 27 age- and Full Scale IQ-matched typically developing controls were assessed on standardized measures of math problem solving, perceptual reasoning, verbal ability, and test anxiety. Results indicated that 22% of the ASD sample evidenced a mathematics learning disability, while only 4% exhibited mathematical giftedness. The parsimonious linear regression model revealed that the strongest predictor of math problem solving was perceptual reasoning, followed by verbal ability and test anxiety, then diagnosis of ASD. These results inform our theories of math ability in ASD and highlight possible targets of intervention for students with ASD struggling with mathematics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAutism Research
StateAccepted/In press - 2015


  • Adolescents
  • Anxiety
  • Mathematics problem solving
  • Perceptual reasoning
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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