Using the plasticity of peripheral micro-movements to diagnose and treat autism-spectrum disorders

4 Apr 2014

Elizabeth Torres
Departments of Psychology, Computer Science & Cognitive Science
Rutgers University

Maria Brincker
Department of Philosophy
University of Massachusetts, Boston


Natural movements flow continuously. We have precisely characterized in this continuous flow movement segments that are deliberately performed with intent. We have also distinguished them from segments that occur spontaneously, largely beneath our awareness. Their inherent variability at the periphery had not been considered as a form of sensory input critical for central (volitional) control of actions. We combined high-resolution motion-capture technology and a new statistical platform to analyze the individual rates of change in motor output variability in humans. The tiny variations, or micro-movements present in normal activities exhibit statistical signatures which allow us to classify certain neurological disorders. In the case of autism-spectrum disorders, the micro-movements variability inherently present in the motions deliberately directed to a goal served as a natural classifier to subtype autism severity. The plastic changes in micro-movements variability of the spontaneous motions served to evoke and sustain exploratory behavior, self-discovery and volitional control. This was the case even in children that would normally be classified as "non-verbal, low-functioning" [1,2]. Using the spontaneous movements we have been able to uncover hidden competencies and to guide the neurological system towards a self-healing process [3]. We will discuss how these methods might have a broader impact in other clinical fields.

  1. E B Torres, M Brincker, R W Isenhower, P Yanovich, K A Stigler, J I Nurnberger, D N Metaxas, J V José, "Autism: the micro-movement perspective" Front Integr Neurosci 7:32, doi:10.3389/fnint.2013.00032, 2013. Article
  2. M Brincker, E B Torres, "Noise from the periphery in autism", Front Integr Neurosci 7:34, doi:10.3389/fnint.2013.00034 2013. Article
  3. E B Torres, P Yanovich, D N Metaxas, "Give spontaneity and self-discovery a chance in ASD: spontaneous peripheral limb variability as a proxy to evoke centrally driven intentional acts", Front Integr Neurosci 7:46, doi:10.3389/fnint.2013.00046 2013. Article

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