Part 5 Action-perception coupling: Why movement IS a sensory modality

Maria Brinker and Elizabeth B. Torres Noise from the periphery in autism. Frontiers in integrative Neuroscience July 2013 Vol. 7 Article 34

Prof. Elizabeth B. Torres leads the Sensory-Motor Integration lab at the Psychology Department of the Busch Campus, Rutgers University. She states there are effects in early infancy, before medical diagnosis, especially in motor sequencing, selective or exploratory attention, affective expression and intersubjective engagement with parents. These are followed by retardation of cognitive development and language learning in the second or third year, which lead to a diagnosis of ASD: –

“No two individuals with the autism diagnosis are ever the same—yet many practitioners and parents can recognize signs of ASD very rapidly with the naked eye. What, then, is this phenotype of autism that shows itself across such distinct clinical presentations and heterogeneous developments?
What have often been overlooked are the processes and relevance of continuously accumulating evidence from the fluctuations in our motions. By gaining a probabilistic expectation about the variability itself the system can acquire predictable and reliable ‘motor priors.’  Rather than merely adding ‘noise’ (Faisal et al., 2008), sensory-motor variability can serve as actively sampled and sharpened informative ‘signals’ and as an aid in adaptively reshaping old priors.

We should stress that the absence of reliable ‘motor priors’ in ASD does not give us the causes of autism. However, it helps begin to define the challenges in new inclusive ways, where the affected person is part of the solution. By precisely and objectively quantifying movement sensing in autism, we can begin to develop an operational definition that refines our Understanding and offers tractable routes of behavioral intervention, even when the causes are unknown. This definition will not merely enumerate what is different or deficient in the autistic system relative to what is known in the typical system. It will, instead, harness whatever compensatory-adaptive solution the autistic system has already developed and work with that to help steer their performance toward social-communicative goals.

Performance can then be steered by closing the stochastic sensory-motor feedback loops to selectively co-adapt the autistic system with the type of sensory guidance that recruits, modulates, and enhances central autonomy over the body. This would then allow us to tap into many of the solutions that the autistic system has already self-discovered. Their system can show us the optimal path of least resistance [in a very precise physical sense (Lanczos,1966; Feynman et al., 2006)]: the path that accelerates learning. In this regard our model is by definition inclusive of the individual with ASD.

Understanding and objectively quantifying movement fluctuations as a form of re-afferent kinaesthetic input in neuro-typical infants may lead us to earlier detection of critical aberrancies potentially leading to neurodevelopmental differences with complex downstream regulatory consequences.

It is time that we seek to better understand how the distributed intelligence of our bodies and social environments scaffolds our cortical control functions for self-autonomy. The measurable re-afferent micro-movements can help us track the dynamics of embodied minds and thereby also move autism research, diagnoses and treatments toward a new frontier—one that includes and truly connects us with the most important piece of this puzzle: the individual with autism.”

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Walter Solomon is the father of Robert, the autistic boy who is the first subject of the book. He was educated at St Paul’s School, London and has a Masters degree in economics from Cambridge. He is a passionate advocate of the Waldon Approach, works with developmentally delayed children and adults in three different locations in Israel. He lives in Zur Hadassah a small town in a beautiful wine growing area in the Jerusalem hills.