Photo by Annie Spratt: Unsplash
Growing research shows a strong link between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and a range of eating disorders with an estimated 20% of Anorexia Nervosa patients being diagnosed as autistic. Eating disorders effect 16% of the Australian population and can lead to serious complications including death.
Research has established that the prevalence of ASD among the eating disorder population is high but why is this? Studies show that difficulties with emotional regulation and heighten anxiety may be at the core.
Psychologist, Cathy Dart sees many people with both conditions and comments on the prevalence of anxiety as a core trait. “People on the spectrum often develop eating disorders but this may not always be due to a drive for thinness.” Research looking at the development of eating disorders in people with ASD suggests that negative eating habits can arise due to sensory concerns around food and eating environments leading to avoidance restrictive food intake disorder’. Commonly known as ARFD this condition is similar to anorexia with serious physical side effects, however without the concern around body weight or thinness. Underlying both conditions is often a drive for control and management of intense and uncontrollable anxiety.
Cathy Dart continues in her observations of clients with ASD and eating disorders by explaining that it is rare for someone to have an eating disorder without a co-occurring mental health condition. Anxiety disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety commonly co-exist in people with eating disorders. Other clinical observations show there is a correlation with alexithymia in both the ASD and ED population. Alexithymia is a difficulty in identifying emotional and physical sensations such as hunger.
People with ASD may require altered therapeutic intervention to overcome their eating concern and it’s important to see a psychologist and or psychiatrist who can accommodate their different needs. For successful outcomes, people with eating disorders also require a strong support network of family, carers and professionals to achieve full recovery. Regular appointments with an experienced psychologist who is aware of the complexities of eating disorders and autism is strongly recommended.
Some useful resources for people with ASD and eating disorders include:
About Cathy Dart
Cathy is an experienced psychologist who has worked in the inpatient and outpatient private psychiatric setting for almost 10 years. Prior to that Cathy worked for 4 years with individuals and families at risk of a genetic disorder providing services to persons who were pre/symptomatic; and supported the carers of people affected by this illness.
Cathy has experience in providing individual and group therapy for people with a wide range of issues. Cathy has specialised in a recovery and rehabilitation program for patients with eating disorders including psychological assessment, counselling, group training and stress management. Her practice and philosophy reflects a progressive and innovative attitude to optimal client outcomes, maximising resources and potential for development.
Working from a cognitive-behavioural perspective, and incorporating principles of mindfulness and motivational interviewing, Cathy has extensive experience in working with adults who present with a range of psychological difficulties including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, personality disorders, psychosis, schizophrenia, adjustment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Cathy is available at our Newmarket practice, please call reception on +61 7 3356 8255 to make an appointment.