More on Mirror Neurons

After the Thanksgiving feast with friends and family and then our annual Black Friday shop-til-you-drop marathon, Saturday was time to get back to work. I was reading some fascinating comments after the last mirror neuron blog and some suggested articles from faithful readers when my first client arrived.

With mirror neurons fresh on my mind, I worked with a non-verbal deaf 5-year-old with global delays. As she sat in the doll-sized rocking chair holding onto a cymbal with one hand and a drum with the other as I played the piano, sang, and beat both percussive instruments alternately, I watched her intensity of focus and “listening” as she quietly giggled. She eventually reached for the drumstick on her own (something she usually tries to avoid) and began to attempt to beat the drum after watching me. I then moved my foot to the base of the cymbal stand because she was exerting enough pressure on the stand to tip it. As I did, each time she started to move her foot also without watching it. She did this unconsciously each time I moved my foot. She appeared to be concentrating on the vibrations of the drum and cymbal and playing the drum. I thought, of course, “Wow. Mirror neurons?” I had to finish that article on the subject that I had begun to read before sessions started.

The new information (new to me) that I read led me to believe more fully in the scientific reasoning of why Music Therapy. The article, “Broken Mirrors” by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Lindsey M. Oberman, not only talked about the evidence of the firing of mirror neurons concerning motor actions, but also spoke briefly of such difficulties as interpreting metaphors in children with autism. The article said the “angular gyrus” sits at the cross-section of the brain’s touch, hearing, and vision centers. It also demonstrated evidence of a mirror neuron location. Their claim was that in monkeys, this cross-domain mapping aided complex motor tasks, which may involve such things as conformity, touch, auditory, and visual information to complete the tasks. This article suggested that over time, this information developed into the ability to understand metaphors in humans.

After watching the musically unrelated additional response in the little girl’s leg movement, I began to think, “This makes a great case for the importance of Music Therapy, which invites and gives structure to response, which may include not only auditory and visual domains, but also touch.

This week, this little girl did not give many demonstrable outward gains in her session, but the intense level of her tentative contemplation was very evident. We eventually moved to the mirror as I began singing about her hands, nose, mouth, and toes (subjects to sing about were chosen based on her actions and sounds she was playing with). Again, as I sang the words after feeling the vibration of the Native American flute I was playing, she not only began to say “mouf”, but also watched my mouth with intensity.

After reading this article, I began to think of how lucky I was to be able to realize a medium that not only mirrors and structures, but also touches so many areas simultaneously, such as visual, auditory, tactile, and emotion. Music Therapy, the structure to contain and order the chaos and the flexibility to include all, but also the leading mirror ability to attract attentiveness, the additional features are that the structure and predictability provide a sense of safety, which in turn produces calmer, more focused behavior.

Antoinette Morrison, MT-BC

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