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    Alexithymia in autism: cross-sectional and longitudinal associations with social-communication difficulties, anxiety and depression symptoms

    Oakley, B. and Jones, Emily J.H. and Crawley, D. and Charman, T. (2020) Alexithymia in autism: cross-sectional and longitudinal associations with social-communication difficulties, anxiety and depression symptoms. Psychological Medicine , ISSN 0033-2917.

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    Abstract

    Background: Alexithymia (difficulties identifying and describing emotion) is a transdiagnostic trait implicated in social-emotional and mental health problems in the general population. Many autistic individuals experience significant social-communication difficulties and elevated anxiety/ depression and alexithymia. Nevertheless, the role of alexithymia in explaining individual variability in the quality/ severity of social-communication difficulties and/ or anxiety and depression symptoms in autism remains poorly understood. Methods: 337 adolescents and adults (autism N=179) were assessed for alexithymia on the Toronto Alexithymia Scale and for social-communication difficulties, anxiety and depression symptoms. 135 individuals (autism N=76) were followed up 12-24-months later. We used regression models to establish cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between alexithymia, social-communication difficulties, anxiety and depression symptoms. Results: Autistic individuals reported significantly higher alexithymia than comparison individuals (p<0.001, r effect size=0.48), with 47.3% of autistic females and 21.0% of autistic males meeting cut-off for clinically relevant alexithymia (score ≥61). Difficulties describing feelings were particularly associated with current self-reported social-communication difficulties (p<0.001, β=0.57, 95% CI [0.44, 0.67]) and predicted later social-communication difficulties (p=0.02, β=0.43, 95% CI [0.07, 0.82]). Difficulties identifying feelings were particularly associated with current anxiety symptom severity (p<0.001, β=0.54, 95% CI [0.41, 0.77]) and predicted later anxiety (p=0.01; β=0.31, 95% CI [0.08, 0.62]). Conclusions: Our findings suggest that difficulties identifying vs. describing emotion are associated with differential clinical outcomes in autism. Psychological therapies targeting emotional awareness may improve social-communication and anxiety symptoms in autism, potentially conferring long-term benefits.

    Metadata

    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Alexithymia, Autism, Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health
    School: School of Science > Psychological Sciences
    Research Centres and Institutes: Brain and Cognitive Development, Centre for (CBCD)
    Depositing User: Emily Jones
    Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2020 09:23
    Last Modified: 13 Jun 2021 21:31
    URI: https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/40995

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