I visited Vilayanur S. Ramachandran at the University of California, San Diego recently, and interviewed him and several members of his lab about their work. Rama and I talked, among other things, about the controversial broken mirror hypothesis, which he and others independently proposed in the early 1990s as an explanation for autism. I’ve written a short article about it for the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), and the transcript of that part of the interview is below. I also wrote an article summarizing the latest findings about the molecular genetics of autism, which were presented in a symposium held at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting last November.
MC: Autism is an umbrella term referring to numerous conditions. Can the broken mirror hypothesis account for all of them?
Ramachandran: Autism is characterized by a specific subset of symptoms. There may be three or four that are lumped together, but by and large it is one syndrome, as good a syndrome as any in neurology. It’s not like dyslexia, where there are half a dozen or a dozen types. With autism, people are debating whether high functioning and low functioning autistics should be lumped together or not. There’s a tendency to group them together rather than saying they’re distinct.