Alexithymia in Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Given the recent findings regarding the association between alexithymia and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the accumulating evidence for the presence of the Broader Autism Phenotype (BAP) in relatives of individuals with ASD, we further explored the construct of alexithymia in parents of children with ASD as a potential part of the BAP. We hypothesized that (a) parents of children with ASD will demonstrate higher impairment in their emotion processing when compared to controls, and (b) high impairment in emotion processing in parents will be associated with severity of symptoms in children with ASD. Psychometric and diagnostic data were collected on 188 children with a diagnosis of ASD. The Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) was completed by 439 parents of children with ASD and a control group of 45 parents of children with Prader Willi syndrome (PW). Results show that ASD parents score higher than controls on the TAS-20 total score. Within the ASD group, children of fathers with high alexithymia score higher on repetitive behaviour symptoms compared to children of fathers with low alexithymia. The alexithymia trait appears to be one of the many building blocks that make up the BAP.
KeywordsAutism Broader autism phenotype Emotion processing Alexithymia Intermediate phenotype
This study was supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Mental Health Foundation. We would like to thank the children and the families who participated in data collection. Lonnie Zwaigenbaum is supported by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.
- American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
- Ben Shalom, D., Mostofsky, S. H., Hazlett, R. L., Goldberg, M. C., Landa, R. J., Faran, Y., et al. (2006). Normal physiological emotions but differences in expression of conscious feelings in children with high-functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 395–400.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Levine, M. (1986). Leiter international performance scale: A handbook. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
- Lord, C., Risi, S., Lambrecht, L., Cook, E. H., Jr., Leventhal, B. L., DiLavore, P. C., et al. (2000). The autism diagnostic observation schedule-generic: A standard measure of social and communication deficits associated with the spectrum of autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 205–223.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Mahoney, W. J., Szatmari, P., MacLean, J. E., Bryson, S. E., Bartolucci, G., Walter, S. D., et al. (1998). Reliability and accuracy of differentiating pervasive developmental disorder subtypes. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 37, 278–285.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Szatmari, P., MacLean, J. E., Jones, M. B., Bryson, S. E., Zwaigenbaum, L., Bartolucci, G., et al. (2000). The familial aggregation of the lesser variant in biological and non-biological relatives of PDD probands: A family history study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41, 579–586.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Taylor, G. J., Bagby, R. M., & Parker, J. D. A. (1997). Disorders of affect regulation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Tidmarsh, L., & Volkmar, F. R. (2003). Diagnosis and epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 48, 517–525.Google Scholar