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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?

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