Child Autism and Mirror Neurons

Child Autism and Mirror Neurons


  • 1 Characteristics of childhood autism
  • 2 Mirror neurons
  • 3 Empirical evidence of possible SNE dysfunction in autistic children

Characteristics of autism in childhood

Child autism is a disorder characterized by an alteration in reciprocal social interactionsanomalies of the Verbal and non-verbal communication, poor imaginative activity and a repertoire of restricted activities and interests. The causes of this syndrome are still unknown, but there are approaches that try to explain the neurobiological causes of this syndrome.

Mirror neurons

One is studying theory of a dysfunction of the Mirror Neuron System (SNE)There are different evidences that point out that this system does not work well in autistic children.

This SNE system, acts in imitation processes, in language acquisition, in emotional expression, in the understanding of what happens to others and in empathy. These functions are altered in autistic children. So a dysfunction in the SNE could explain the symptoms seen in children with autism.

The Mirror Neurons are a set of neurons that control our movements and also, respond specifically to the movements and intentions of movement of other subjects, participate in the generation of our own movements.

These types of neurons break with the traditional categories, in which the neurons, they are neither purely motor, nor purely sensory, but both at the same time.

It has been speculated that this neuron system is at the base of imitation processes and in the realization of forms of learning by imitation. The activation of the SNE allows to recognize the motor sequences that others make and preprogram those sequences to be performed by the observer.

The existence of the SNE in humans has been scientifically proven.

In the areas related to emotional expression, there are mirror neurons that seem to form the basis of our understanding of what happens to others, related to the empathy.

How can the SNE participate in autism. If the SNE is really involved in the interpretation of complex intentions, then a disruption of this neuronal circuit could explain the basic symptoms of autism, which is the lack of social skills.

Also in this disorder we know that also areas such as empathy, language deficit, poor imitation are altered.

Empirical evidence of possible SNE dysfunction in autistic children

  • Autistic children do not show electroencephalographic data when watching other subjects perform motor acts, the SNE system is not activated so they are incapable of empathic recognition of the behaviors of others (Ramachandran Working Group, University of California).
  • They also found SNE deficit in children with autism, by magnetocephalography (Hari Working Group, University of Helsinki).
  • The researchers used Dapretto, from the University of California, functional magnetic resonance imaging demonstrating a reduction in the activity of mirror neurons in the prefrontal cortex of individuals with autism.
  • Theoret group, from the University of Montreal used transcranial magnetic stimulation also replicated the previous results children with autism, they did not have the same response to induced hand movements.

In conclusion, these findings in different investigations give us evidence that people with autism probably have a dysfunction in the SNE.

All these investigations open the way to a possible treatment for these children by rehabilitating the SNE.

J.O. Cornelius-Grandson. Children's autism and mirror neurons, 2009. Neurol Magazine, 48 S27-S29.

Ana Tostado

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