Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Fenny Zwart (Donders series 312)

14 March 2018

Promotor: prof. dr. R. Kessels, copromotors: dr. J. Maes
dr. C. Vissers

What have we learned? On implicit learning in ASD and SLI

When growing up we are able to acquire a variety of skills through implicit (or automatic) learning mechanisms. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Specific Language Impairment (SLI) are two neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by deficits in communication skills, most profoundly in social skills and language respectively. The aim of the current dissertation was to gain insight in implicit and explicit (or effortful) learning mechanisms in ASD and SLI, by using behavioral and electrophysiological measures on a commonly used implicit learning paradigm: the Serial Reaction Time (SRT) task. The findings of several SRT task studies included in this dissertation suggest an implicit learning deficit in SLI, forcing the explicit learning system to compensate, but an intact implicit learning capacity in ASD. In ASD, it rather seems that the interplay between the implicit and explicit learning systems develops differently, with autistic adults showing an overreliance on explicit learning, which may lead to difficulties during social learning. Clinical implications and future research are discussed.