# Do people with ADD or Asperger's Syndrome often show different learning curves than neurotypical individuals?

There's some interesting discussion at this Wrong Planet thread

Specifically, I was wondering whether people with ADD or Asperger's Syndrome are more likely to show a logistic pattern in their learning curves?

• Have you read any scientific papers to suggest this to be true? – Jeromy Anglim Jan 21 '12 at 1:22

Although I don't know any publications exactly on that matter it is possible to be true. So please treat this as a speculation.

People with Asperger Syndrome (or High-Functioning Autism) have higher attention to detail and tend to build more rigid structures in their minds (while neurotypicals may have more error-tolerant but less efficient structures). So it is very possible that the learning curve for AS starts slowly and then have sharp leaps. In the initial stage they may see merely a collection of facts (while neurotypicals can manage to work with them as they are less demanding when it comes to the self-consistency and structure). However, when it 'clicks' and one understands pattern of the structure it may give a considerable advantage.

Moreover, it may be also about time spent learning. Once a person with AS feels safe in a topic, (s)he may like to learn it even, while for a neurotypical there is no so much fun in learning more details.

When it comes to the relation of skills and cognitive style and Asperger Syndorme, the following references may be useful:

The first one is an essay relating cognitive styles of: people with AS, nerds and science. The second shows that there is high variance in mathematical skills among people with AS (so most are below average, but some are way above).

From my experience, the effect is very well visible when it comes to presenting knowledge. Nerdy people typically are bad at presenting topics they don't understand well. Neurotypical do it much better (perhaps because they make 'didactic lies' much easier, or they are not concerned so much by 'chaos' or lack of self-consistency, or they are better at repeating catch-phrases). At the same time nerds understanding a topic well often understand it really well (knowing a lot of connection, analogies, what is exact and what approximate, etc).

• Thanks for this. From my own personal experience or point-of-view, I have been diagnosed with AS/ADHD-PI in the past... I generally think of myself as a "slow" learner, and I could totally relate to the "click" that occurs all of a sudden - once I reach that boundary, I feel like I either can or do understand everything (whatever it is that I'm trying to learn), magically. And I have a very good memory /only/ when it comes to something I feel I have learned to the point of clear comprehension. Ramble, ramble. YMMV? – PheonixEnder May 7 '12 at 3:14

Your question is very broad. But from my reading of the literature, my hypothesis would be that there wouldn't be a difference in the degree to which learning curves are logistic.

In a very general sense, learning generally involves the accumulation of a vast number of smaller components. Some components are easier to acquire than others and some yield greater gain more rapidly. In many domains, processes like this presumably give rise to learning curves where the rate of learning declines monotonically with practice and approaches an asymptote. If the performance is operationalised as reaction time, then three parameter power ($y = a + b^{-cx}$) or exponential functions ($y = a + b\exp(-x)$) often provide good fit. See a discussion here.

If performance is operationalised as amount of knowledge, then the task is a little more difficult in terms of defining a natural metric of performance.

In general, from the literature that I've read looking at differences between younger adults and older adults (e.g., see work by Christopher Hertzog or high intelligence and low intelligence individuals (e.g., see work by Phillip Ackerman), differences in learning curves tend to be expressed more in level and rate of learning. I.e., If there is a variable related to learning, then it tends to be correlated with initial and final performance. I.e., older adults and low intelligence individuals perform more poorly initially and after practice than younger adults and high intelligence individuals after equivalent amounts of practice. In general, I don't see why the fundamental mechanisms of learning would be all that different at least as is expressed in the learning curves.

That said, most empirical papers that look at differences between groups, whether it be non-clinical versus clinical samples or any other group comparison often focus on overall performance. Furthermore, if you look at group level learning curves, the logistic function at the individual level could easily be smoothed out at the group level if the timing of the s-shape in the curve was different across individuals.