Electroencephalography Measures (mirror neurons) of Social Attention and Skills in Children with Autism

Based on the effectiveness of ABA social skills training and the atypical mirror neurons (MN’s) recently observed in children with autism while watching social interactions, we hypothesize that ABA intervention might be correlated with enhanced mu suppression in autism. Specifically, if improvement in social skills is a function of increased activation of MN’s, we should find greater mu suppression after ABA training compared to before training.

It is expected that ABA treatment will have significant effects on mu wave suppression. While the autism control group is not expected to demonstrate changes in mu suppression, and the neurotypical control group is expected to show little or no change, the experimental autism group is expected to show significant increase in mu wave suppression.Such a difference would be taken to reflect the involvement of MN dysfunction in impaired social function in autism as well as the efficacy of ABA treatment.

It is expected that training of social skills is a function of training the MN’s to respond appropriately to actions and intentions of others. Significant findings of this study would be of sufficient theoretical and clinical importance to warrant attention of the research and the clinical communities and would warrant publication in a top peer-reviewed journal.

This project will begin in 2008 with initial funding from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and in collaboration with Chad Woodruff, PhD from the Department of Psychology and Andrew Gardner, PhD Undergraduate and graduate students from Northern Arizona University will also participate.