Autism can be conceived as an adaptive biological response to an early unexpected developmental change. Under such conceptualization one could think of emerging biological compensatory mechanisms with unique manifestations in each individual. Within a large group of affected people this would result in a highly heterogeneous spectral disorder where it would be difficult to tap into the hidden potentials of any given individual. A pressing question is how to treat the disorder while harnessing the capabilities and predispositions that the individual has already developed. It would indeed be ideal to use such strengths to accelerate the learning of self-sufficiency and independence, important as the person transitions into adulthood. In this report, we introduce a new concept for therapeutic interventions and basic research in autism. We use visuo-spatial and auditory stimuli to help augment the physical reality of the child and sensory-substitute corrupted kinesthetic information quantified in his/her movement patterns to help the person develop volitional control over the hand motions. We develop a co-adaptive child-computer interface that closes the sensory-motor feedback loops by alerting the child of a cause-effect relationship between the statistics of his/her real-time hand movement patterns and those of external media states. By co-adapting the statistics of the media states and those of the child's real-time hand movements, we found that without any food/token reward the children naturally remained engaged in the task. Even in the absence of practice, the learning gains were retained, transferred and improved 2-4 weeks later. This new concept demonstrates that individuals with autism do have spontaneous sensory-motor adaptive capabilities. When led to their self-discovery, these patterns of spontaneous behavioral variability (SBV) morph into more predictive and reliable intentional actions. These can unlock and enhance exploratory behavior and autonomy in the individual with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Torres, E. B., Yanovich, P., & Metaxas, D. N. (2013). Give spontaneity and self-discovery a chance in ASD: spontaneous peripheral limb variability as a proxy to evoke centrally driven intentional acts. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnint.2013.00046