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Mirror Neuron System and Written Communication through Facilitated Communication in People with Autism: A Cortical Profile of Excitability and Inhibition by Means of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

There are several studies that link Mirror Neurons (MN) to language and other studies describe a possible malfunction of the Mirror Neuron System (MNS) in people with autism. However, some people with autism use pointing and typing (FC) as an alternative to verbal language. This project was driven by the hypothesis that FC might activate the MNS, helping the person with autism to communicate. The aim was to investigate this hypothesis by means of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive technique widely used to test neuromotor activation. TMS is able to explore some brain circuits in humans, and TMS experiments in non-autistic people have demonstrated an activation of some brain areas while reading and speaking. This project investigated whether the same is true for children with autism and no verbal language who have learned to read and write. If this is true, it would demonstrate that pointing with the objective of typing is an intentional movement. The study assumed that reading and writing, learned by FC, have created a common code between the two people who communicate which allows them to understand each other. Twenty non-speaking people with autism and twenty non-autistic people participated in this year-long study. Selected subjects underwent a clinical and neuropsychological assessment. After identifying participants, the investigator tested her hypothesis using TMS recording to prove that the typing on a keyboard of autistic FC users was intentional (i.e. independent from facilitator).