BACKGROUND: Literature states that parents of individuals affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can present social and cognitive deficits, restricted behavior patterns and psychiatric difficulties, without meeting standard diagnostic criteria for ASD ("Broader Autism Phenotype"). We explored the relationship between parenting of children affected by ASD and levels of empathy and lack of emotion understanding (alexithymia).
METHODS: We enlisted 58 families in which a child was affected by ASD. Parents' empathy and alexithymia were respectively assessed by means of Empathy Quotient (EQ) and Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20). Additionally, we included the assessment of the perception of children's behavior through the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL).
RESULTS: Our findings suggest that most parents have normal empathy and do not show significant alexithymia. We found lower EQ and higher TAS-20 scores being more frequent in fathers. Moreover, each parent's empathy degree negatively relates to his/her alexithymia and vice versa, showing that these two features are inversely correlated. Our study unveiled a strong correlation between maternal empathy and alexithymia and child's externalizing problems, as reported by mothers.
CONCLUSIONS: Our data reveal differences in mothers and fathers' empathy and alexithymia profiles and confirm the importance of considering both parents' points of view either in the diagnostic and the therapeutic interventions. Parental empathy and alexithymia levels not only play a fundamental role in the evaluation of child's difficulties but can also influence the development of a good relationship with the child for what concerns affective resonance.