Last week, a colleague passed along the book, "Mirror Neurons and the Evolution of Brain and Language", by editors Stamenov and Gallese. Mirror neurons exist in specific regions in the brain and have a unique mission: learn how to copy someone else's movements as a way of learning to do something new. For a child this might be: take a lid off of a jar, play hopscotch, or hopefully, for one of my clients, brush your teeth.
Alicia, a 5 year old girl with autism, refuses to let mom brush her teeth (without a big fight). Mom and I want to desensitize her mouth a bit, so that she more readily accepts brushing. I put a glove on my hand and played games with Alicia while she was swinging. I managed to touch her mouth, and even get a finger onto her gum without too much of a struggle. But she was done with the game long before I managed to massage her gums.
During the next session, after playing our game for a few minutes, I guided her fingers to her teeth. I touched my teeth with my fingers and asked her to touch hers. To make this easier for her to understand, we moved to chairs in front of the mirror and kept practicing touching teeth, then gums. Alicia "got it" and her mom, who had been watching, felt comfortable with following through with the game. It's too early to say, but we have hopes that Alicia will learn to desensitize her own mouth, and then learn to brush her own teeth. Whew.