Poor statistical learning underlies failed acquisition of expertise in communication disorders

Ahissar, M.

The Hebrew University

Human reasoning is slow, and yet humans perform efficiently in remarkably complex situations. This ability relies on our acquired expertise. I propose that attaining expert verbal (reading) and nonverbal communication (social) skills relies mainly, if not exclusively, on core sensitivities to serial temporal regularities. The crucial time scale is >3sec (implicit memory) for language related skills, and <3 yet >.3sec (gestures and sensory-motor coordination) for nonverbal communication. Importantly, both individuals with reading (dyslexics) and with communication (autistics) disabilities have adequate sensory and motor skills, but, unlike their peers, their inference skills are impaired at these specific temporal windows. Failure to detect regularities prevents the allocation of components of complex-task implementation to automatic, lower-level processing stages. Consequently, performance remains serial, slow and effortful. We tested and verified the following prediction of this hypothesis : in synchronized finger tapping - where updating predictions is based mainly on very recent events, autistics' performance is expected to be impaired, in spite of adequate levels of motor noise, and dyslexics' performance is expected to be adequate. This hypothesis explains both autistics' rigid behavior and anxiety from changes, and dyslexics' less reliable linguistic categories yet greater flexibility to changes.