Body Perception in Newborns


In my last newsletter, I referenced Warren Jones and Ami Klin’s groundbreaking research in measuring an infant’s gaze pattern as an early predictor of autism.  In an earlier TEDTalk, Klin spoke of the fundamental importance of social engagement in the development of our sense of self and of others.  Social engagement, he says, is our ability «to resonate with other people’s feelings, thoughts, intentions, and motivations in the act of being with them.»   This, he asserts, begins with a baby’s orientation to his primary caregiver and an innate preference to gaze at another who is gazing at him.

 

As a baby also begins to understand the power of attention in directing her own gaze to signal a desire, so she follows another’s gaze as an early clue to what someone else is thinking and feeling.  Thus, a baby begins to build a «body of meaning» as a basis for social interaction. This inability to learn by sharing experiences with and different from others is, of course, what is commonly lacking in a child diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

 

In late November, a fascinating study was published in Current Biology, again tracking a baby’s gaze pattern and showing that healthy newborns are born with the essential mechanisms necessary to differentiate their own body from others.  According to Filippetti, et al, this ‘body ownership and awareness’ is a body perception that is present at birth, with important implications for developmental disorders characterized by lack of self-awareness:

 

The power of congruent face-to-face interactions between infants and their caregivers continues to be a critical tool for us to share with the families with whom we are working.

 

Barbara Leverone, MA

Certified Child’Space Practitioner and Trainer, Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner

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