New Study Finds Autism and Anorexia Similarities

As autism is diagnosed more often in males than females, many females may be misdiagnosed with anorexia, even though they present autistic traits. A new study conducted at Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre’s findings conclude that girls with anorexia nervosa tend to show signs of autism, like high interests in systems and a lack of empathy.

The study looked at 66 girls ages 12 to 18 who have been diagnosed by specialists with anorexia, but not on the autism spectrum. The participants were compared to 1,600 typical teenage girls, also 12-18 years old, using three scales of measurement: the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), Systemising Quotient (SQ), and Empathy Quotient (EQ). After doing the comparison, the researchers found that the girls diagnosed with anorexia nervosa were more likely to score the same as people with autism than typically developing teenagers. In addition, the girls in the study scored higher in repeating patterns and systems than typically developing girls, which is a trademark of autism. Finally, the participants showed lower empathy levels than typical girls.

Lead author of the study and a member of the Advisory Committee for Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voice’s partner organization, ICare4Autism, Simon Baron-Cohen states,

“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 system. In girls with anorexia, they have latched onto a system that concerns body weight, shape, and food intake. Acknowledging that some patients with anorexia may also have a raised number of autistic traits and a love of systems gives us new possibilities for intervention and management.” [i]

Autism is on the rise, and finding the proper tools for diagnosis and intervention methods is crucial. This study can shed some light into proper methods for teenage girls diagnosed both with autism and anorexia nervosa.



[i] “United Press International” Anorexia and autism share similar characteristics, study finds. 6 Aug 2013. Web. <http://www.upi.com/blog/2013/08/06/Anorexia-and-autism-share-similar-characteristics-study-finds/1051375822252/>