Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 48, Issue 10, pp 3551–3561 | Cite as

Statistical Learning is Associated with Autism Symptoms and Verbal Abilities in Young Children with Autism

  • Rebecca M. JonesEmail author
  • Thaddeus Tarpey
  • Amarelle Hamo
  • Caroline Carberry
  • Gijs Brouwer
  • Catherine Lord
Original Paper


Statistical learning-extracting regularities in the environment-may underlie complex social behavior. 124 children, 56 with autism and 68 typically developing, ages 2–8 years, completed a novel visual statistical learning task on an iPad. Averaged together, children with autism demonstrated less learning on the task compared to typically developing children. However, multivariate classification analyses characterized individual behavior patterns, and demonstrated a subset of children with autism had similar learning patterns to typically developing children and that subset of children had less severe autism symptoms. Therefore, statistically averaging data resulted in missing critical heterogeneity. Variability in statistical learning may help to understand differences in autism symptoms across individuals and could be used to tailor and inform treatment decisions.


Statistical learning Autism Social communication Cognitive abilities Bayes classification 



We thank Sara Levitt Palencia for her helpful input and feedback and thank Jennifer B. Schwartz for designing the illustrations in Fig. 1 (

Author Contributions

RMJ and CL developed the study. RMJ, GJB and CL contributed to the study design. Testing and data collection was performed by RMJ, AH and CC, TT performed the data analysis with the supervision of RMJ and CL, RMJ drafted the manuscript and CL and TT provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.


This study was funded in part by an Autism Speaks Meixner Fellowship (7608), the Department of Defense (AR130106), a generous gift from the Mortimer D. Sackler family and the Leon Levy Foundation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Catherine Lord receives royalties from the ADOS and all proceeds related to this project were donated to charity.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10803_2018_3625_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (83 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 83 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Weill Cornell MedicineThe Center for Autism and the Developing BrainWhite PlainsUSA
  2. 2.Department of Mathematics & StatisticsWright State UniversityDaytonUSA
  3. 3.Center for Neural ScienceNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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