The mirror function in the brain that allows people to emulate the social behaviours of others is impaired in autistic patients.
This is the finding of a new study at Monash University, which investigated the link between impaired social function and the mirror neuron system.
Dr Peter Enticott and his colleagues found that individuals with autism show blunted brain responses to the stimulation of the motor cortex, which occurs when viewing a hand gesture or other social expression.
The discovery was made when the researchers used transcranial magnetic stimulation techniques to observe the brains response to hand gestures in autistic patients.
Impaired social function was also found to be the result of sub-standard mirror functioning.
A better understanding of the brain circuit is vital in understanding the neurobiology of autistic spectrum disorders, which can lead to new and more effective treatments.
If the findings are confirmed in clinical trials they could have "substantial potential therapeutic implications", Dr Enticott explained.
New techniques could be developed to help patients better understand the actions of others and negate unusual behaviours.
Find out about Barchester's support for adults and children with a wide range of Autistic spectrum conditions.