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Autistic Children Have Higher Risk of Eating Disorder

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A recent study conduced on  5,381 adolescents, suggests, adolescents with disordered eating had a 20% increase in SCDC (Social and Communication Disorders Checklist) scores .  Autistic social traits were reported by mothers using SCDC at age seven, 11, 14 and 16 years.

Key Excerpts from the Study;

  1. The SCDC is a measure of social communication problems, a core feature of ASD. Disordered eating behaviours – including dieting, fasting, binge eating and purging – occur across the whole eating disorder spectrum and are a risk factor for the development of eating disorders
  2. Greater autistic social traits in childhood could represent a risk factor for the development of disordered eating in adolescence
  3. Studies have also shown autistic traits can be comorbid (relating to or denoting a medical condition that co-occurs with another) with a range of disordered eating behaviours including binge eating, which is more typical of bulimia nervosa (eating disorder characterised by binge eating, followed by methods to avoid weight gain) and binge eating disorder
  4. At age 14 years, 334 (11.2%) girls reported at least one disordered eating behaviour, with 218 (7.3%) experiencing these behaviours monthly and 116 (3.9%) weekly.
  5. Among boys, these behaviours were less common. A total of 87 (3.6%) boys said they had had episodes of disordered eating in the previous year, with 55 (2.3%) reporting monthly and 32 (1.3%) weekly episodes
  6. Higher SCDC scores at age seven years were still associated with greater odds of reporting any disordered eating at age 14 years
  7.  autistic traits could constitute a risk factor for disordered eating as opposed to disordered eating leading to greater autistic social traits over time
  8. Three studies reported specific associations between poor communication and social skills (as well as attention to detail) and disordered eating behaviours such as binge eating and vomiting, which constituted key behaviours in our disordered eating measure

Summary/Key Points:

  • In this study, it was found that adolescents who at age 14 years report disordered eating behaviours already had greater autistic social traits at age seven years.
  • Findings suggest that elevated autistic social traits could represent a risk factor for the development of disordered eating and eating disorders.
  • Clinicians managing people with eating disorders should be aware that autistic social traits could have predated these conditions.
First published:03 May 2020

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