New Study Links Autism and Anorexia Characteristics

The dual attributes may provide new therapies in treating the disease

On August 6th the Huffington Post reported that experts are one-step closer to understanding what causes anorexia. A new study has shown that girls with anorexia display symptoms that typify autism. Compared to typical girls, girls with anorexia have a significantly similar number of the average autistic traits – more than average actually. Also similar to girls with autism, the anorexic girls had above-average scores in order and systems as well as below-average scores in empathy.

Leading autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen from Cambridge University’s Autism Research Center says, “Traditionally, anorexia has been viewed purely as an eating disorder. This is quite reasonable, since the girls’ dangerously low weight and their risk of malnutrition or even death has to be the highest priority.” He added, “But this new research is suggesting that underlying the surface behavior, the mind of a person with anorexia may share a lot with the mind of a person with autism. In both conditions, there is a strong interest in systems. In girls with anorexia, they have latched onto a system that concerns body weight, shape and food intake.”

Co-leader of the study, Tony Jaffa, believes the information the study provides will supply experts with new therapies to assist girls with anorexia in recovery. “Shifting their interest away from body weight and dieting on to a different but equally systematic topic may be helpful,” Jaffa said. “Recognizing that some patients with anorexia may also need help with social skills and communication, and with adapting to change, also gives us a new treatment angle.”


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