Exploring the Role of Neural Mirroring in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Abstract

Investigating the underlying neural mechanisms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has recently been influenced by the discovery of mirror neurons. These neurons, active during both observation and execution of actions, are thought to play a crucial role in imitation and other social-communicative skills that are often impaired in ASD. In the current electroencephalographic study, we investigated mu suppression, indicating neural mirroring in children with ASD between the ages of 24 and 48 months and age-matched typically developing children, during observation of goal-directed actions and non-goal-directed mimicked hand movements, as well as during action execution. Results revealed no significant group differences with significant central mu suppression in the ASD children and control children during both execution and observation of goal-directed actions and during observation of hand movements. Furthermore, no significant correlations between mu suppression on one hand and quality of imitation, age, and social communication questionnaire scores on the other hand were found. These findings challenge the “broken mirror” hypothesis of ASD, suggesting that impaired neural mirroring is not a distinctive feature of ASD. Autism Res 2014, 7: 197– 206. © 2014 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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