Teenage girls with anorexia share many or the same traits as autism patients, hinting at new ways of treating the eating disorder, UK research suggests.
The fixation on food, calories and numbers on the scale have much in common with the rigid systems and deep involvement with introspective thought patterns seen in people with autism, said the researchers at Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre.
“Underlying the surface behaviour, the mind of a person with anorexia may share a lot with the mind of a person with autism,” said lead researcher Professor Simon Baron-Cohen.
In both conditions there is a strong interest in systems. In girls with anorexia, latched onto a system that concerns body weight, shape and food intake, found the study that compared the Autism Spectrum Quotient of 66 teen girls with anorexia matched to 1,600 healthy adolescents.
The girls with anorexia were significantly more likely to exhibit autism traits, scoring in the autism range five times more
often than controls, the authors reported in Molecular Autism.
The anorexia patients also had much lower empathy levels compared to their peers- a common autistic trait.
The authors suggested that shifting the emphasis from weight and food to other, ordered systems that were less debilitating may help treat anorexia.
The study also highlighted the need to build social and communication skills, and resilience in the face of change for some anorexia patients.
As first appeared in Psychiatry Update, 7 August 2013