Neuroscience, dance and autism

Neuroscience research and dmp

Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system – including the brain, the spinal cord, and networks of sensory nerve cells, or neurons, throughout the body. Humans contain roughly 100 billion neurons, the functional units of the nervous system (Neuroscience, 2012).

Antonio Damasio is a neuroscientist who recognises that the mind is not a sophisticated tool separate from the rest of the body. He suggests that what the mind experiences as an emotion is really a group of somatic cues that he calls ‘somatic markers’ which include blood flow, hormone levels, digestive activity, neurotransmitters and other areas of cellular metabolism (Damasio, 1994: 165).shepton_aut_class_64

One of the characteristics of children on the autistic spectrum is actively avoiding relationships thus, withdrawing into their own world. Therapeutic interventions engaging relational experience and expressive communication are consistent signs of (dmp) (Homann, 2010: 91).

A fundamental concept of neuroscience is that the mirror matching mechanism of the brain is activated when relating to stimuli outside of the self, when in relationship with another. This specialized group of brain cells is located in the parts of the brain that respond to sensorimotor stimuli, to stimulation of the senses (Berrol, 2006: 307).

To understand an illness that concurrently involves interruptions of gait, eye contact, and language as well the ability for abstract reasoning, one must be attentive to the interrelationship of systems that comprise the central nervous system (CNS) as many levels of neural processing are involved
(Cozolino, 2006: 284)

When the (dmp) therapist is witnessing a client in movement, the mirror matching networks within the (CNS) are generating interneuronal connectivity between them both (Berrol, 2006: 308).

The vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic nervous system that is paramount in resting. Functioning of this nerve is influenced in early development through the quality of touch experienced from caregivers (Hart, 2008).

However, an autistic brain functions differently from one that is perfectly healthy. The cells in the limbic circuits of the brain are not as developed as in a healthy brain. Panskepp suggests that autistic aloofness may be the product of the basic emotional systems of the brain, which are moulded during early development, not receiving the care, love and nurturance needed for healthy development (Panksepp, 2001: 13).

The somatic attunement of the (dmp) through embodied movement activates the mirror neuron system, and through neuronal, hormonal and chemical cascades connecting the limbic, autonomous nervous system and right hemisphere’s orbifrontal cortex, facilitates experiences of being with another. Because this process activates early relational attachments, it is fundamental in psychotherapeutic work (Homann, 2010: 90).

“The period from 7 to 15 months is considered optimal for receiving particular affective stimuli in the portions of the brain undergoing rapid development. It is a time when axonal myelinisation, dendritic proliferation and connectivity are facilitating the maturation of the limbic and cortical association areas, a time when attachment patterns are forming.” (Berrol, 2006: 310)

Mirroring the baby, the mother stimulates the neurological pathways of the brain building empathy, the ability to understand and experience the emotional world of other. Conceived of as a mental state it is dependent on right hemispheric resources (Decety and Chaminade, 2003).

As body awareness through rhythmic activities and relaxing emphasising one body part at a time were some of the interventions employed with the children affective self-regulation was being encouraged.

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