Movement Matters: New Perspectives in Autism Research

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Professor Richard Schmidt is a cognitive psychologist working to innovate and introduce new perspectives in social research and autism.

“Interpersonal relations rely not only on spoken, linguistic communication, but also on the shared physical language of the body,” he says. “For example, a listener’s shifts in posture are coordinated with a speaker’s speech rhythms. It’s a like a dance—a back and forth, a give and take. For individuals with autism, that dance is off-beat.”

Prior to Schmidt’s work, the most research on autism and social interactions focused on the relationship to language and mental impairments. Schmidt’s research does something differently. Funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), Schmidt has found a close correlation between body coordination and the severity of autism.

“Our research investigates the impairments in social interaction by evaluating social competence in terms of the bodily ‘dance’ that occurs in social interactions, rather than in terms of mental abilities,” an entirely new perspective on the disorder.”

Schmidt’s research hopes to find a correlation between a lack of synchronicity in body language of pre-verbal infants and their mothers. Secondly, he hopes to establish a common body language in patients with autism. Finding more in each of these areas could help lead to an earlier diagnosis and allow therapists more effectively serve their patients.

“Because the measurement of interpersonal bodily coordination is an objective behavioral measurement, it can potentially be used to evaluate the social competence in the very young at the crucial early stages of autism. We can also use bodily coordination interventions – such as ‘social’ movement therapy—to potentially divert the path of the disorder at other critical stages.”

You can learn more about Schmidt’s research funded by the NIH here.

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