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An examination of autism spectrum traits in adolescents with anorexia nervosa and their parents

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number56
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Autism
Volume5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2014

King's Authors

Abstract

BACKGROUND: There may be a link between anorexia nervosa and autism spectrum disorders. The aims of this study were to examine whether adolescents with anorexia nervosa have autism spectrum and/or obsessive-compulsive traits, how many would meet diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder, and whether these traits are shared by parents.

METHODS: A total of 150 adolescents receiving outpatient treatment for anorexia nervosa or subthreshold anorexia nervosa and their parents completed the autism spectrum disorder and eating disorder sections of the Development and Well-being Assessment. Patients also completed the Children Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale and other measures of psychiatric morbidity, and parents completed the short Autism Quotient and Obsessive-Compulsive Inventory Revised.

RESULTS: Adolescents with anorexia nervosa had a below average social aptitude (19% below cut-off) and high levels of peer relationship problems (39% above cut-off) and obsessive-compulsive symptoms (56% above cut-off). Six cases (4%, all females) were assigned a possible (n = 5) or definite (n = 1) diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Parental levels of autism spectrum and obsessive-compulsive traits were within the normal range.

CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that adolescents with anorexia nervosa have elevated levels of autism spectrum traits, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and a small proportion fulfil diagnostic criteria for a probable autism spectrum disorder. These traits did not appear to be familial. This comorbidity has been associated with a poorer prognosis. Therefore, adaptation of treatment for this subgroup may be warranted.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: Controlled-trials.com: ISRCTN83003225. Registered on 29 September 2011.

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