On the way to doing my master's thesis, I stumbled across an article on mirror neurons, which are the neurons that "mirror" the actions or feelings of a person we are observing or listening to. These would seem to be the neurons that make us empathetic beings, and some recent research with the functional MRI (f-MRI) shows that in the brains of children with autism, these neurons remain unengaged or less engaged than in others.
While there is much research on autism going on out there, some credible and some not, this theory really resonated for me. I have a niece who is autistic, and I have taught autistic teenagers, so I have a personal interest in any theory that might be of use.
I am wondering if anyone with more experience and knowledge than I finds this to be a credible theory, and I am also wondering how this idea might be put to good use. What kinds of strategies would one use to encourage the use of the brain's "circuitry" or to draw on other strengths to overcome this obstacle?
I have no trouble believing this, as I've seen children with autism who do not relate to others and cannot see from another's perspective. This makes teaching fiction texts very difficult, not to mention social skills. The students I have known have had a really tough time understanding why characters acted or reacted in a certain way, and could not apply to their own lives. Because of this, I found it best to try to make the situation apply if possible. When the student with autism experienced something first hand, it was much easier for them to grasp the concept of what was being taught. This is not something that can be done in every case, but I think its important to remember that children with autism do have trouble looking at the world from another's perspective, and that makes different classroom activities (like acting out scenarios) difficult for these students.
Here is the reference, straight from my thesis:
Oberman, L., & Ramachandran, V. (2007, March). The simulating social mind: The role of the mirror neuron system and simulation in the social and communicative deficits of autism spectrum disorders. Psychological Bulletin, 133(2), 310-327
It should be available through any university database.
I found it fascinating and felt it explained so much of what I
have seen of autism. If a child lacks mirron neurons, for
example, how could he or she be able to interpret facial cues?
It looks as though it is mirror neurons that allows us to
navigate through varying social contexts, where our brains
can mirror what we see and act accordingly. I'll be interested
to know what you think.
Interesting. Can you give us the article source, please? I'd like to read it. I've taught kids who have autism, and have come across the research that shows different areas of the brain "fire" when images are viewed by people with and without autism, but this is the first I've seen of what the actual difference in neurons may be.