Mirror Neurons and Incidental Learning

Neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran created this Ted Talk to discuss mirror neurons. Mirror neuron’s role in the brain was recently discovered and research about the function of mirror neurons continues. As Dr. Ramachandran mentions in his talk, he believes mirror neuron use is one of the foundations of human interactions and cultural growth.

Mirror neurons, activated by visual observation, allow us to imitate and practice observed actions and to take the perspective of another person as they operate in the world. I couldn’t help but think of mirror neurons in the context of CVI and visual impairments.

For children with CVI, that lack of essential visual access would make mirror neurons function impossible and this must impact the development of all skills and knowledge, all imitation and the development of all social skills. The role of mirror neurons, it seems, is essentially intertwined with incidental learning and perspective taking, the basis of social skills.

A vast amount of information that a child learns about the world is through this visual incidental learning. If I watch a person eating, I am learning through visual skills alone, how people eat. I know the position for eating, the social skills of eating, and the tools used for eating. My brain, using mirror neurons, is practicing eating long before I ever use a spoon myself. I am exposed to this kind of incidental knowledge all my waking hours from birth and I am learning without being directly instructed.

After watching this Ted Talk, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this not support the need for careful evaluation of what children with CVI really understand and how they understand it?
  • Does this not caution us to think about why children with CVI might struggle with imitation and pretend play? (and caution us to be careful to never use this imitation and pretend play criteria for cognitive assessment)
  • Does this not justify all direct instruction to students with CVI?
  • Does this not justify the repeated need to practice all skills directly taught?
  • Does this not justify the Expanded Core Curriculum for students with CVI?
  • Does this not justify a TVI who understands visual inaccessibility on a child’s educational team?

https://www.ted.com/talks/vilayanur_ramachandran_the_neurons_that_shaped_civilization?referrer=playlist-how_your_brain_constructs_real

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