A recent study has revealed that women suffering with anorexia display similar traits to autism. The research, which has been lead by Simon Baron-Cohen Ph.D. at Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre, has shown that female sufferers of anorexia have an above-average interest in systems and order, and below-average scores in empathy. This is similar in traits of autism.
I’m pleased that the research is getting so much attention but equally frustrated that no one seems to be asking why this might be the case. In my experience working as a specialist in the field for over 10 years I have found that the ‘traits’ the study highlights are also evident in those who have never been shown how to develop intimate relationships with anyone & have suffered significant trauma. Yes similar to autism, but traits that can be taught/healed, unlike autism.
“Dr. Tony Jaffa, who co-led the study, said understanding that some anorexic patients may also have a higher than normal number of autistic traits and a love of systems offers specialists new ideas for ways to treat people with the eating disorder. Shifting their interest away from body weight and dieting on to a different but equally systematic topic may be helpful,” he said. “(And) recognizing that some patients with anorexia may also need help with social skills and communication, and with adapting to change, also gives us a new treatment angle.”
For the last 7 years we have been offering a program that is heavily focused on helping our patients to develop empathy, social skills and communication. Our therapy groups have titles that include: ‘social issues’, ‘sex and relationships’ and ‘core self’. The emphasis of our work is not just about food and weight stablisation, it is about teaching sufferers how to develop intimate relationships with other people, communicate their needs in a healthy way and develop and sustain behaviours of self care.
One of the reasons that so many sufferers of eating disorders relapse after weight stabilization programs is because there has been no or very little focus on these issues. Eating disorders are symptomatic of underlying wounds and coping strategies that sufferers have developed for coping with life…until they are taught other ways of coping with all areas of lives and their emotions then I see very little hope for a long and sustained recovery from any eating disorder behaviours.