Alexithymia and Autistic Traits as Contributing Factors to Empathy Difficulties in Preadolescent Children

J Autism Dev Disord. 2022 Feb;52(2):823-834. doi: 10.1007/s10803-021-04986-x. Epub 2021 Mar 31.


Recent evidence suggests that, contrary to traditional views, empathy difficulties may not be a core feature of autism; but are rather due to co-occurring alexithymia. Empathy, alexithymia and autistic traits have yet to be examined concurrently in children. Therefore, we examined the co-occurrence of empathy difficulties and alexithymia in 59 typically developing and 5 autistic children. Multiple measures (self-report, parent-report and a behavioural task) were used to evaluate empathy and to assess differences in self- and parent-reports using multiple regressions. Alexithymia was found to predict empathy significantly better than autistic traits, providing support for the alexithymia hypothesis. From a therapeutic perspective, results suggest autistic children who screen positive for elevated alexithymic traits may benefit from additional support targeting emotion identification.

Keywords: Alexithymia; Autistic Traits; Children; Empathy; Multi-Informant Approach.

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / diagnosis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder*
  • Child
  • Emotions
  • Empathy
  • Humans