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Dependent Motor Learning in Autism Examination of Visual and Somatosensory (funded through NAAR)

Increased insight into the brain mechanisms underlying autism can be gained from consideration of motor abnormalities of individuals with autism. By using tests of motor function for which the neurologic basis is well mapped out, it is possible to gain an understanding of the neural circuits impaired in autism. Motor signs can serve as markers for deficits in parallel brain systems important for control of social and communication skill impairments observed in autism. Among the most consistently observed motor abnormalities in autism is difficulty with imitation and performance of skilled motor tasks and gestures. These deficits could be secondary to a fundamental problem with acquiring motor skills. Deficiencies in motor skill learning could also result in development of a limited repertoire of movements and might explain observations of motor stereotypies. The goals of this project were to determine common factors underlying motor deficits in autism and to investigate brain abnormalities associated with these deficits using functional magnetic resonance imaging. A long-term goal was to examine the association of impaired motor skill learning with socialization and communication deficits that characterize autism. This study provided insight into the neurologic basis of motor deficits in autism and could provide a basis for understanding the neurologic underpinnings of impaired social/communicative development.