Volume 2   Number 1      Fall 2007

Autism as a Downstream Effect of Primary Difficulties in Intersubjectivity Interacting with Abnormal Development of Brain Connectivity
Filippo Muratori
Sandra Maestro
Scientific Institute Stella Maris, University of Pisa, Italy
pp. 93-118   (pdf)
ABSTRACT. Autism is a ‘spectrum’ of conditions all of which disturb the development of interpersonal sympathy. We suggest that differences in behavior, emotion or brain functions are downstream effects of impairments in primary or secondary intersubjectivity. Several research projects have shown that the lack of intersubjective behaviors is the best way to discriminate children with autism from those with typical development during the first year of life. According to new findings on biological maturation of the brain after birth, it is supposed that these difficulties do not allow the neurological experience-dependent system to develop in autism. In this paper we consider early dyadic interactions observed in the home movies of children later diagnosed with autism, of sequential maternal approach and infant’s responses to these approaches. We hypothesize that children with autism show fewer contingent responses to their mothers than non-autistic children, and that episodes of contingency are a function of the type of approach used by the caregiver. It is supposed that more contingent behaviors happen when the caregiver approach is high in intensity and rich in non-verbal behaviors, as motherese. Motherese is supposed to play an important role in creating interactive sequences which are the expression of new cortical and sub-cortical networks in brain development. When these linkages are not properly formed early in life, a variety of downstream effects may occur.
Keywords: autism, intersubjectivity, motherese, contingency, mirror neurons