student profile: Ms Belinda Poole


Thesis work

Thesis title: Math Skills in Children with Epilepsy: Cognitive and Clinical Correlates

Supervisors: Irina HARRIS , Suncica LAH

Thesis abstract:

This study examines working memory (WM) and mathematical skills in children with genetic generalised epilepsy (GGE). GGE is the most common type of epilepsy in childhood and has been shown to be associated with WM deficits and difficulties in academic performance. In particular, research has shown that children with epilepsy have pervasive difficulties in mathematical skills (Black & Hynd, 1995; Danguecan & Smith, 2017; Jackson et al., 2013; Rathouz et al., 2014; Reilly et al., 2014; Seidenberg et al., 1986), which have been under-researched relative to reading difficulties in this patient population. One study has found a large effect size for arithmetic difficulties in children with epilepsy, which was mediated by verbal working memory capacity (Danguecan & Smith, 2017). This provides some evidence that there may be an important relationship between low WM capacity and difficulties in mathematics in children with epilepsy. However, the role of each component of WM (i.e. visual-spatial, verbal and central executive) in relation to arithmetic and other mathematical skills for children with GGE remains unknown. Furthermore, it is unknown whether epilepsy factors (i.e. age of seizure onset, duration of epilepsy), cognitive skills (such as possessing speed and attention), reading ability or anxiety underpin math difficulties in children with GGE.

This project will investigate whether various components of WM and mathematics have differential vulnerability to GGE. Moreover, it will establish relations between WM and other cognitive and clinical aspects and the impact on math skills. This is the first study to examine the relationship between various components of WM and mathematical skills in children with GGE. This is a novel and clinically relevant study, which is important; as previous studies have shown that mathematical difficulties in children with epilepsy are common, are present at diagnosis and continue to persist over time (Rathouz et al., 2014; Reilly et al., 2014). This study will advance our knowledge of the factors underpinning math difficulties in children with generalised seizures. These findings may be relevant to other children with neurological disorders that impact their academic performance. It is hoped that this study will contribute to future diagnostic assessments, interventions and treatment.

Note: This profile is for a student at the University of Sydney. Views presented here are not necessarily those of the University.