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Autism an Imprinting Error?

Do newborns imprint on the mother, just like baby ducklings attach themselves to the first thing they see, whether that's the mother duck or Konrad Lorenz? Could autism begin when the newborn fails to imprint?

I was ready to dismiss this Psychology Today blog post by Bill Ahearn out of hand. But it's too well-reasoned -- and also, Ahearn is director of research at the New England Center for Children, a private nonprofit educational facility for children with autism.

Ahearn is not arguing that newborn humans have the same, simple kind of imprinting mechanism that baby birds do. But he does argue that a lack of response to the initial "social" cues of the mother's smell and nipple may interfere with the normal brain and physiological development that takes place after birth.

He writes,

... one of the earliest indicators that an ASD may be present is atypicality, at birth, in primitive reflexes, like rooting and sucking. As I mentioned above, imprinting establishes the significance of a cue and if that cue is not imprinted to, it does not have this same significance. Is it possible that something is going wrong in social learning that is akin to an imprinting error? Well, one thing we know about individuals with autism relative to people without it is that social cues do not hold the same significance for people with ASDs.

This is a fascinating article that takes some attention to read, but will reward the attention.