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New study pinpoints difference in the way children with autism learn new behaviors
Date:7/6/2009

Researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have collaborated to uncover important new insights into the neurological basis of autism. Their new study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, examined patterns of movement as children with autism and typically developing children learned to control a novel tool. The findings suggest that children with autism appear to learn new actions differently than do typically developing children. As compared to their typically developing peers, children with autism relied much more on their own internal sense of body position (proprioception), rather than visual information coming from the external world to learn new patterns of movement. Furthermore, researchers found that the greater the reliance on proprioception, the greater the child's impairment in social skills, motor skills and imitation.

Previous research has shown that children with autism have difficulty with motor skills, which appears to be associated with abnormalities in how the brain learns motor actions. To study the models formed in the brain when children with autism learn a new movement, researchers measured patterns of generalization as 14 children with autism and 13 typically developing children learned to reach using a novel tool. They then examined how well children were able to generalize what they learned in two separate ways one that detected how much they relied on visual information to guide learning and one that detected how much they relied on proprioceptive information to guide learning.

"These findings can lead to important advances in methods for treating autism. Applying the knowledge gained in the current study, targeted interventions can be developed that enhance visuo-motor associations in children with autism as they learn new skills," said Dr. Stewart H. Mostofsky, study author and a pediatric neurologist in the Department of Developmental Cogniti
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Contact: Megan Lustig
mlustig@spectrumscience.com
202-955-6222
Kennedy Krieger Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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