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Anorexia and Autism: Is There a Connection?

Both anorexia and Asperger's, a form of autism, remain highly misunderstood. Ongoing research out of the Maudsley Hospital in London points to a surprising relationship between these two conditions. Maudsley researchers believe anorexia is an inheritable trait, rather than a psycho-social problem, and is related to autism. Although the two conditions present differently, both conditions, according to autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen (Sacha's cousin) share a "narrow focus of attention, a resistance to change and excellent attention to detail." Research has also shown that 15 to 20 percent of patients diagnosed with anorexia are also on the autism spectrum.

More on the overlap after the break.

Statistically speaking, boys are 15 times more likely to be diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome when compared to girls and conversely, girls are 10 times more likely to suffer from anorexia than boys. But for both conditions obsession — for anorexics perfectionism leads to obsession with weight and with Asperger's the obsession might be forms of transportation — is an integral element. Baron-Cohen explained that "The reason [Asperger's] is usually diagnosed less often in females may be because it takes a different form — anorexia may be just one of the forms." Members of the Eating Disorders Unit at Maudsley found that when anorexics are underweight they have difficulty interpreting other people's emotions, a trait found in people diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

Interestingly enough, the thinking patterns associated with both conditions — repetitive thoughts and behaviors, rigid routines and rituals, and perfectionism — may be present in the same region of the brain. Researchers in eating disorders hope to study this overlap in hope of finding more comprehensive treatments for anorexics. For more details, check out A Genetic Link Between Anorexia and Autism?

Join The Conversation
dikke-kus dikke-kus 8 years
How much are they getting paid to do this research? I know a lot about autism and someone is wasting thier money over there in London. Someone goes overboard with losing weight and has an introverted personality trait and they point to autism spectrum disorder. What a line of crap. Maybe they should ask themselves why black girls never have this problem. They already figured it out years ago here in the USA.
sparklestar sparklestar 8 years
It makes a lot of sense.
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
i'm still not sold on this one. i was anorexic for many many years and i would never consider myselt to exhibit any symptoms of any form of autism. yes i know that not EVERYONE falls in to the description categories that were noted but it's just a bit too far fetched and out there for me.
Spectra Spectra 8 years
Oh, this makes total sense to me. Girls with Asperger's-like traits could easily get wrapped up in rigorous routines and somewhat anti-social behavior focusing more on how they interact with food vs. how they interact with the world. This could really help doctors treat people with anorexia or at least get a little more insight into the condition instead of just trying to force-feed people that suffer from it.
telane telane 8 years
fcseamstress fcseamstress 8 years
Makes perfect sense when presented this way. Side note: I thought this was a scam at first because I only read Baron-Cohen, not that it was his cousin! Hee hee!
kscincotta kscincotta 8 years
Very interesting! That makes so much sense!
cg130 cg130 8 years
Woah, weird! I've never heard this before, it was very interesting, and makes a lot of sense now that I think about it.
Asche Asche 8 years
This isn't new research. Autism specialists have been classifying Anorexia for years as falling on the autism spectrum. People tend not to believe this when I say it, so I'm glad someone else is finally publishing it online!
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