Predictive action impairment in autism: what goes on in the brain?
Motor difficulties are prevalent and often observed in early childhood in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Contemporary research suggests that the predictive planning of movement sequences is impaired in children with ASD, underlying the commonly observed motor problems. Still, there is a lack of detailed studies regarding motor planning in developing individuals with ASD, its relation with brain function, and how this may be linked to core social and communication problems.
The project aims to understand whether predictive action impairment in ASD is a consequence of atypical activation patterns in brain regions underlying perception and/or motor control, and how these problems potentially can relate to differences in neural activity in brain circuits linked to motor-based understanding of others. This level of investigation has the capacity to add importantly to both current theories of motor-cognition relations in ASD and relevant development of intervention strategies.
The project will use sophisticated measurement methods (eye movement registration, “robotic arm”, functional brain imaging,) comparing children/youth with ASD and typically developing controls of the same age.
Research questions include if there are deficits in visual control/predictive coding and relations to brain activity in ASD; if there are deficiencies in the processing of multimodal (visual, auditory and tactile) sensory feedback in ASD and how this may relate to brain activity; if there is atypical brain activity supporting planning-dependent sequential manual actions in ASD during goal-directed movements performed in the fMRI scanner; and if there is atypical activation of the mirror neuron system and/or extended neural networks in relation to goal-directed sequential manual movements that require planning in ASD.
If problems with prediction in sequential goal-directed action are characteristic for young persons with ASD, it could be a source of diverse challenges in everyday life. The cutting-edge behavioral and brain imaging measurement technology to be used in the present project holds great promise for identifying a potential salient mechanism in the autism phenotype, with importance for optimizing development and health in individuals with ASD.