Back on April 2nd, I posted on World Autism Awareness Day and wrote about my sense that my friends on the Autism Spectrum didn’t have a problem with their mirror neurons (oops! see the comments section for an update). Instead, I felt that they had a problem with sensory overload.
And I’m not the only one! Neuroscientist Ilan Dinstein and colleagues performed an fMRI brainscan study on 13 Autistic adults and 10 “neurotypical” adults and found that there was no deficit in the mirror neuron systems of the Autistic adults. You can see a video about the study here.
Dr. Marco Iacobini, a neuroscientist at UCLA who supports the mirror neuron deficit theory, thinks that a study with a total of 24 people isn’t large enough to draw conclusions from, but Dr. Dinstein disagrees:
Dinstein stands by his team’s conclusions. The number of participants he examined is typical for brain imaging studies, he says, and their Autistic participants, though high-functioning, possessed the most extreme form of Autism Spectrum disorder, not milder forms such as Asperger’s syndrome.
He supports a different theory for Autism: that it is the product of “noisy brain networks” that don’t communicate as predictably as those in normal people. He says his latest study offers support for this, as his team noticed more variability in the brain activity of people with Autism, compared with controls.
He plans to probe this theory by searching for noise in other brain areas in people with Autism. From NewScientist.
In my previous post, I wrote about a book co-written by Temple Grandin, and I’ve been thinking about her a great deal since then.
Because here’s the thing: Dr. Grandin became famous for creating humane animal feedlots, farms, and slaughterhouses because she could easily put herself in the mindset of the animals she studied. She could walk the paths the animals walked, look at the machinery and surroundings from their perspective, and understand what scared or bothered them. Her changes insured that the animals could be loaded and unloaded from medical and transportation equipment without fear or struggle, and she made their lives (and their deaths) infinitely better. She’s a heroine.
But she’s also the owner of some ass-kicking mirror neurons (update: Perhaps a better phrase is “place-taking” or, hmmmm, empathy?). She just uses them on animals instead of people. Heck, I understand that! As a little traumatized empath with overactive mirror neurons (update: place-taking, empathy), I found humans totally exhausting, and I preferred animals. Animals don’t lie! They feel their emotions and share them honestly, and they don’t pretend. I love animals! They make being sensitive easy.
I swear, with my overactive mirror neurons (update: intense empathy), I have much more in common with my Autistic friends than I do with allegedly regular folks. Hmmm. How about you?