Relating Autism And Mirror Neurons Essay

1733 words - 7 pages

Whenever John and his mother drive to Rite Aid, he insists that they take the same route every single time. Whenever he steps into a new Rite Aid, he must walk around for five to ten minutes and when he would come home, he would draw a perfectly memorized layout of the floor plan of that particular drug store. Often times, it is difficult for John to make eye contact with others, and instead he may fidget, rock his body back and forth, or even hit his head against the wall. These abnormal behaviors can be attributed to the fact that John was diagnosed with a disorder called Autism at the age of three.
Autism is a behavioral syndrome related to differences in brain functioning and sensory responses. The disorder impacts normal development of the brain in such areas as social interaction and communication skills, leading to a deficit in these areas. Recent studies have attributed this deficit and struggle with social interaction in children with autism to the mirror-neuron system not functioning properly. Researchers found that mirror neurons preform the same functions that are disrupted in Autism. Therefore, it can be hypothesized that one cause of Autism is a dysfunctional mirror-neuron system, given that the presumed functions of these class of neurons – such as empathy, intention-reading, mimicry, pretend play, and language learning- are deficient in autism. Studying the unexpected relationship between mirror neurons and autism is vital because this may have implications for the development of early behavioral interventions aimed at training basic mechanisms supported by the mirror-neuron system, rather than attempting to correct higher levels of complex behaviors.
Mirror neurons are a newly discovered, specific class of nerve cells of the brain in the premotor cortex. Researchers have found these neurons to be involved abilities such as empathy and the perception of another individual’s intentions. First identified in macaque monkeys in the early 1990’s, the neurons fired both when a monkey performed an action itself and when it observed another living creature perform the same action. Thus, they are known as “monkey-see, monkey-do cells.” In humans, the mirror neuron system has been found to be involved in the execution and observation of movement, as well as other higher cognitive processes such as language or mimicry and the ability to empathize with others (Ramachandran 140). These types of social interactions are exactly what are found to be deficient in persons with autism.
In a study conducted by Dr. Ramachandran and his colleagues in the late 1990s at University of California, San Diego, it was hypothesized that mirror neurons perform precisely the same functions that are disrupted in autism (Ramachandran 143). To test this hypothesis, Ramachandran and his colleagues used EEG oscillations in the mu frequency over the sensorimotor cortex, because this was thought to reflect mirror neuron activity. Mu wave suppression was measured...

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