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Implicit learning seems to come naturally for children with autism, but not for children with specific language impairment: Evidence from behavioral and ERP data.

Autism Res. 2018 Apr 20;:

Authors: Zwart FS, Vissers CTWM, Kessels RPC, Maes JHR

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and specific language impairment (SLI) are two neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication skills. These skills are thought to develop largely through implicit-or automatic-learning mechanisms. The aim of the current paper was to investigate the role of implicit learning abilities in the atypical development of communication skills in ASD and SLI. In the current study, we investigated Response Times (RTs) and Event Related Potentials (ERPs) during implicit learning on a Serial Reaction Time (SRT) task in a group of typically developing (TD) children (n = 17), a group of autistic children (n = 16), and a group of children with SLI (n = 13). Findings suggest that learning in both ASD and SLI are similar to that in TD. However, electrophysiological findings suggest that autistic children seem to rely mainly on more automatic processes (as reflected by an N2b component), whereas the children with SLI seem to rely on more controlled processes (as reflected by a P3 component). The TD children appear to use a combination of both learning mechanisms. These findings suggest that clinical interventions should aim at compensating for an implicit learning deficit in children with SLI, but not in children with ASD. Future research should focus on developmental differences in implicit learning and related neural correlates in TD, ASD, and SLI. Autism Res 2018. © 2018 The Authors Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
LAY SUMMARY: Autism and Specific Language Impairment (SLI) are two disorders characterized by problems in social communication and language. Social communication and language are believed to be learned in an automatic way. This is called “implicit learning.” We have found that implicit learning is intact in autism. However, in SLI there seems different brain activity during implicit learning. Maybe children with SLI learn differently, and maybe this different learning makes it more difficult for them to learn language.

PMID: 29676529 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

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