Alexithymia & autism guide | Embrace ASD

Have you heard about Alexithymia?

Primary alex­ithymia is a life­long condi­tion, caused by child­hood trauma or nega­tive primary care­givers inter­ac­tions. So primary alex­ithymia develops early, and becomes molded during child­hood and early adult years as person­ality traits. Hence primary alex­ithymia is also called trait alex­ithymia.

Do you tend to forget people’s faces? That’s alex­ithymia. Do you not recog­nize that you are hungry until hours later, at which point your sugar levels have dropped and you feel sick? Yep, that’s alex­ithymia. Specifically, that’s dimin­ished inte­ro­cep­tion due to alex­ithymia. So we may be less aware of our breathing, hunger, thirst, or our heart rate.

I feel like I can remember faces, but names elude me. Also, I tend to confuse people who have similar faces. A person who I went to school with looked really similar to a co-worker years later, and I totally had them confused. Also, I have a hard time telling when I’m hungry, and usually eat to quiet an upset stomach, which is probably caused by not eating, or not eating well (I drink a lot of coffee). But the number of times I’ve gotten upset due to low blood sugar is pretty impressive.

This seems to suggest that when you have a lower aware­ness of emotions in the self and others, you are less likely to be socially moti­vated, or maybe more likely to be put off by the social chal­lenges. I can imagine that if you don’t have good aware­ness or a signif­i­cant under­standing of the emotions of your­self and others, you will not be inter­ested in emotions and inter­acting, and are more likely focused on activ­i­ties and exploring concepts.

And it’s not just cogni­tive empathy that is dimin­ished by alex­ithymia! Research from 2018 by Cari-lène Mul et al. shows that autistic people with alex­ithymia have both lower cogni­tive and emotional empathy than autistic people without alex­ithymia. The research also showed that autistic people have a reduced inte­ro­cep­tive sensi­tivity (they don’t feel internal bodily sensa­tions such as hunger as readily) which was not influ­enced by alex­ithymia, and a reduced inte­ro­cep­tive aware­ness (meaning we are less aware of the bodily signals we already feel less), which was found to be influ­enced by both alex­ithymia and empathy.

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