Clinical evaluation of autistic symptoms in women with anorexia nervosa

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Despite a suggested link between anorexia nervosa (AN) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), previous studies have used self-report or diagnostic criteria to assess for ASD in AN populations, rather than direct observation of symptom characteristic of ASD. The aim of this study was to use a standardised, clinical assessment of ASD, the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd Edition (ADOS-2), to investigate the presence of autistic symptoms in a cross-sectional sample of women with AN.

Sixty women were recruited from inpatient or day-patient specialist eating disorder services. Each participant underwent the ADOS-2 assessment and completed a set of self-report questionnaires assessing eating disorder pathology and other psychiatric symptoms. IQ was also assessed.

Fourteen women (23.3%) scored above clinical cutoff for ASD on the ADOS-2. Only eight of these women displayed repetitive or restrictive behaviours, while all 14 had difficulties with social affect. Elevated ASD symptoms were associated with increased alexithymia and obsessive-compulsive symptoms, but not specific eating disorder pathology.

ASD symptoms are over-represented in women with severe AN and appear to be associated with other psychiatric symptoms, which warrant further investigation and consideration in treatment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Autism
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2017


  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • female ASD
  • ADOS -2


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