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What precedes the phenotypical expression of autism as we know it? Focus on movement development in the first 12 months of life

17 dicembre 2020
2:00 pm

Autism is currently described as a set of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by the very early presence of difficulties in social interaction, non-verbal communication and reciprocity, plus the presence of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities and hyper or hypo sensory reactivity.

Autism, as a child syndrome, was first reported in the early 1940s: Kanner described children with autism as ‘children that come to the world with an inborn disorder in affective contact with people’. The concept of autism as an innate disorder of affective contact could be of great importance if we consider autism as a condition that has its roots in an initial process which only later leads to problems in the social development. The hypothesis of an initial process seems to suggest that autism is the final step of dysfunctions in a complex cortical–subcortical network which begin in the womb and gradually become evident during the first 18 months of life.

Among the pillars of social development, we have taken into consideration atypicalities in motor development. In a series of subsequent research we have described several aspects of early motor skills (hypoactivity, poor repertoire, reduced motor activity, postural asymmetry) as possible bodily precursors of the social difficulties.

This atypical early motor organization is an essential aspect of early autism. The disruption of general movements, of spontaneous hand movements, the persistence of archaic reflexes, the prevalence of asymmetric postures, the global reduction of motor activity both to respond and to provoke have repercussions on a large number of feedback loops that allow communication to co-construct from the first weeks of life.


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Fabio Apicella, IRCCS Fondazione Stella Maris