Internal action models refer to sensory-motor programs that form the brain basis for a wide range of skilled behavior and for understanding others' actions. Development of these action models, particularly those reliant on visual cues from the external world, depends on connectivity between distant brain regions. Studies of children with autism reveal anomalous patterns of motor learning and impaired execution of skilled motor gestures. These findings robustly correlate with measures of social and communicative function, suggesting that anomalous action model formation may contribute to impaired development of social and communicative (as well as motor) capacity in autism. Examination of the pattern of behavioral findings, as well as convergent data from neuroimaging techniques, further suggests that autism-associated action model formation may be related to abnormalities in neural connectivity, particularly decreased function of long-range connections. This line of study can lead to important advances in understanding the neural basis of autism and, more critically, can be used to guide effective therapies targeted at improving social, communicative, and motor function. © The Author(s) 2011.
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