Investigating alexithymia in autism: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Emma Kinnaird, Catherine Stewart, Ketevan Tchanturia

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Abstract

Background: New research suggests that, rather than representing a core feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), emotional processing difficulties reflect co-occurring alexithymia. Autistic individuals with alexithymia could therefore represent a specific subgroup of autism who may benefit from tailored interventions. The aim of this systematic review and metaanalysis was to explore the nature and prevalence of alexithymia in autism using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS). Methods: Online scientific databases were searched systematically for studies on ASD populations using the TAS. Meta-analyses were performed to evaluate differences in scores between the ASD and neurotypical groups, and to determine the prevalence of alexithymia in these populations. Results: 15 articles comparing autistic and neurotypical (NT) groups were identified. Autistic people scored significantly higher on all scores compared to the NT group. There was also a higher prevalence of alexithymia in the ASD group (49.93% compared to 4.89%), with a significantly increased risk of alexithymia in autistic participants. Conclusions: This review highlights that alexithymia is common, rather than universal, in ASD, supporting a growing body of evidence that cooccurring autism and alexithymia represents a specific subgroup in the ASD population . More research is needed to understand the nature and implications of co-occurring ASD and alexithymia.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2018

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