The SIP study at Queens College examines how a mother’s environment and stress levels affect child development. With the help of a cohort of more than 500 mother/child pairs across New York City, the SIP research team aims to find ways to promote positive health outcomes for mothers and their children.
Of particular interest is the subject of emotional well-being. Difficulty identifying and interpreting emotions, both in oneself and in others, is thought to be a defining characteristic of many autism spectrum disorders. A growing body of evidence, however, suggests that this difficulty is due not to autism itself, but rather to a personality trait called alexithymia. While alexithymia and autism often occur together, they are different conditions.
Alexithymia overlaps with—and may even contribute to—a wide range of mental health issues beyond the autism spectrum. One of the goals of the SIP Study is to understand the genetics and developmental trajectory of alexithymia, as well as its relationship to other aspects of mental health.
By investigating the roots of alexithymia in gestation and early childhood, we can better understand the interplay between environment, genes, and neurobiology—and, ultimately, develop interventions to foster emotional health.