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Children with Autism and High Autistic Traits Exhibit Difficulties in Sensing and Comprehending Internal Bodily Signals
Author: Dr. Raymond Chan      Update time: 2022/02/09
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Interoception refers to the awareness and integration of internal signals including heartbeats and breathing patterns. Empirical findings suggest that interoception correlates with understanding of self and other’s emotional status and learning. Interoception is therefore important for us to maintain a physiological equilibrium to achieve an optimal functional of daily lives. Children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), including those with high level of autistic traits are considered to exhibit impairment in interoceptive accuracy. However, the extant literature provides mixed findings and should be interpreted cautiously with different methodologies.

Recently, Dr. Raymond Chan’s team from the Neuropsychology and Applied Cognitive Neuroscience (NACN) Laboratory, CAS key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology has developed an innovative Eye-tracking Interoceptive Accuracy Task (EIAT) that is easily and specifically to examine interoceptive accuracy in children with ASD. They administered the Eye-tracking Interoceptive Accuracy Task (EIAT) to 30 children with ASD, 20 children with comorbid ASD and attention-deficit/hyperactive deficits (ADHD), and 63 typically-developing children with high and low levels of autistic traits. They also collected subjective measures from parents of these children.

Their findings showed that ASD children with and without comorbid ADHD exhibited lower interoceptive accuracy than typically-developing children. They also found that typically-developing children with high level autistic traits also exhibited reduced interoceptive accuracy comparing to typically-developing children with low level of autistic traits. Interoceptive accuracy was found to correlate with ASD and ADHD symptoms negatively. More importantly, they also found atypical cardiac interoception in children with ASD.

Taken together, these findings highlight that difficulties in sensing and comprehending internal bodily signals in childhood may be related to both ASD and ADHD symptoms. These findings have important implications for us to understand the altered sensory processing observed in children with ASD and ADHD.

This study was supported by a grant from National Science Foundation China and the CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology.

The paper entitled "Decreased interoceptive accuracy in children with autism spectrum disorder and with comorbid attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder" was published  online from Autism Research on January 27, 2022. 

Related paper
-        Yang, H. X., Hu, H. X., Zhang, Y. J., Wang, Y., Lui, S. S. Y., Chan, R. C. K.* (2021). A network analysis of interoception, self-awareness, empathy, alexithymia, and autistic traits. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00406-021-01274-8
-        Yang, H. X., Zhou, H. Y., Wei, Z., Wan, G. B., Wang, Y., Wang, Y. Y., Yang, T. X., Lui, S. S. Y., Chan, R. C. K.* (2021). Multidimensional interoception and autistic traits across life stages: Evidence from a novel eye-tracking task. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, DOI : 10.1007/s10803-021-05155-w

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