Autism and Anorexia

Rigid. Obsessed with systems. Attention to even the slightest detail. These characteristics sound like an infamous disorder that has puzzled medical professionals and scientists alike for years – autism.

Autism is a very complex neurological disorder that affect 2 million individuals just in the USA. It results in some devastating behavioral abnormalities including lack of verbal & nonverbal communication, difficulties with social interaction, and struggles with obsessive repetitive behaviors. The disorder can also result in some physical health issues as well including problems with the gastrointestinal tract and sleep disturbances.  The cause of autism is currently unknown, though there has been a lot of speculation. Some people point their fingers at the shocking number of vaccinations children receive at such an early age or an increase in ultrasounds. Others believe that it is the parent’s age at the time of conception. Whatever the cause is though, we know this disorder can that turn lives upside down, not only for the affected child but for the family as well.

Now I know what your thinking. You’re probably wondering why on earth am I writing about autism on a blog strictly dedicated to eating disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa. Well, recently an intriguing study conducted at the University of Cambridge by a top autism expert has suggested something very bizarre – that autism and anorexia could be one in the same.

The study took 66 adolescent females (12 to 18) and tested them utilizing the Autism Spectrum Quotient, Systemizing Quotient, and Empathy Quotient. They then compared the results to 1,609 other adolescents girls who shared the same range of age. The results were rather astonishing.   Both the Autism Spectrum Quotient and Systemizing Quotient were elevated in the girl with anorexia nervosa while the Empathy Quotient was decreased – just like a person with autism.  I will admit, the results don’t really shock me. If you think about it, anorexic and autistic individuals share a lot of the same traits including rigid behavior (except with anorexics this behavior revolves around food and weight), obsessing and focusing over one’s self which can result in an individual struggling with empathy, difficulties with emotional intelligence, and alexithymia.

The big question you probably have is, “How is the link between autism and anorexia going to help treat anorexics more effectively?” I had the same question as well. According to the study, they believe that medical professionals, therapists, and other clinicians can try to now focus less on weight and more on the behavioral aspect of the eating disorder (specifically the obsession over systems). They also believe they can assist anorexics with the ability to process other’s emotions in order to help them cope better.

All in all, I really do think that this discovery will greatly advance the treatment of anorexia nervosa around the world. I’ve meant too many clinicians and experienced too many treatment centers that seem to solely focus on the “number on the scale”. By weighing the person so often (even if they are “blind-weights”), I think it is just feeding into an anorexic’s system obsession. It’s time that daily weigh-ins be replaced with more individualized cognitive therapy sessions! It’s time we accept this new knowledge and beat anorexia once and for all!

One thought on “Autism and Anorexia

  1. I am not sure if I think that they the same but I know they play off of each other a great deal. As someone who deals with both, I think that they are interwoven but each will come out at different times.

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