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Clinical evaluation of autistic symptoms in women with anorexia nervosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Autism
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2017


King's Authors


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.

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