Motor Skill Learning in Autism: Anatomic MRI Augmentation
Johns Hopkins University
Basic & Clinical
People with autism often have difficulty with various aspects of motor control, including complex motor skills and gestures. While measuring motor function is generally easier and more consistent than measuring other complex behaviors, including language and communication, little research has investigated motor learning in autism. Using an NIH grant, Dr. Mostofsky and his team are measuring motor skill learning and motor imitation in children with autism. They are then using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine the motor systems in the brain that are impaired in these children. They hope their findings will help them better understand the neural circuits involved in autism. In particular, they hope that what they find out about the motor systems impaired in autism will point to parallel brain systems important for controlling social and communication skills. Initial findings show that, compared with normally developing children, children with autism have difficulty learning a motor sequence but are perfectly able to adapt a movement in response to a stimulus. Several different theories about how various parts of the brain communicate with each other can explain this pattern of motor deficits. This grant will provide added funds to use anatomic MRI (aMRI), which will allow the researchers to examine more closely connections between the regions of the brain that may be involved. What this means for people with autism:This research includes innovative approaches and techniques that will be used to investigate the theory that understanding abnormalities in motor learning in people with autism may provide important insight into social and communicative deficits, which are likely controlled by parallel systems in the brain. They will use brain imaging techniques to pin down the specific neural pathways affecting motor function in people with autism, and thereby gain insight into the more general neurological underpinnings of the disorder.