Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Science




Stevenson, Ryan A.


Statistical learning is a process that allows individuals to extract regularities from the environment and plays an important role in language acquisition, speech segmentation, and aspects of social behaviour. Little is known about the contribution of statistical learning impairments on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) related traits. The current study examined whether impairments in auditory and visual statistical learning are related to ASD and ADHD traits, language, and social competency. Decreased auditory, but not visual statistical learning abilities was related to increased autism traits and visual statistical learning and social competency abilities were mediated by language comprehension. However, no evidence of impaired statistical learning was found in ADHD. Findings highlight the importance of investigating the cascading impact of statistical learning on language and social competency in developmental disorders as well as implementing a more dimensional approach to future studies to capture a broader range of symptoms.

Summary for Lay Audience

One way that individuals learn language and social skills is by picking up on patterns that occur in the environment, a process referred to as statistical learning. Once learners understand that some syllables or events occur together more often than others, they can use this information to understand what words mean and how to respond appropriately in social situations. However, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) traits tend to have difficulties learning these patterns. Our aim was to identify whether statistical learning is related to ASD and ADHD traits and whether impairments in this learning could negatively impact language and social functioning. Such findings could be used to inform intervention programs that include activities that teach pattern learning and have the potential to improve language and social functioning. In turn, individuals who have poor statistical learning abilities can play an active role in improving these skills as they continue to develop.