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Comparing Anorexia and Autism: Truly Apples and Oranges?

Anorexia and Autism

Anorexia and autism might both start with the same letter, but they are worlds apart as disorders. At least, this was the case until a recent study found a subtle little link that might change the way doctors view either one. At times, you might also be adding a condition that has the senses all mixed up to the concoction, creating a not-so-pretty mess.

Whereas anorexia is a disorder common to young females who refuse to eat, believing they are too fat for societal standards, even if they have become a bag of bones, autism is a disorder children are born with, affecting their empathy and ability to function in everyday life. Yet, they share common ground it seems.

Anorexia, in itself, appears to be one of the worst psychological afflictions on young females, augmented by modern media and social expectations about the perfect female body. Imagine staring into a mirror and never seeing the positive, but forever poking at that bit of lard necessary to insulate the organs and warm the system, wishing it away like the rest of the fat already melted from the body. The eyes staring back bulge out in a face too thin, over jutting cheekbones, lack the lustre of health. Bony wrists hang limp against a waist so thin, it frightens a person. It’s a sad sight to watch, made worse if the girl in the mirror is a friend, a daughter, a sister, a lover, or any other person dear to the heart.

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From scientific observations, it’s become clear that both autism and anorexia symptoms include rigid attitudes and behaviours, an immense focus on the self, and a strange fascination with little details. Furthermore, when it comes to social perception, they share similar alterations in the brain’s structure and function. It may a strange thought, but the overlap can become rather useful in treatment.

The study in question compared 66 anorexic girls not diagnosed with autism to 1600 regular health ones between the ages of 12 and 18. They were given tests to check for autism. The results? Anorexic girls are 5 times more likely to rank as autistic than the 15 % of the typical non-anorexic.

When it comes to merely autism, a disorder characterized with a lack or low level of empathy and a strange love for systematic organization in details, those diagnosed are predominantly male. The reason for this has long evaded experts in the field, though they may just start looking at the DSM a little differently. After all, if anorexic females are really hidden autistics, treatment of the disorder and rehabilitation efforts can take a much different route. Such information can lead to higher successes and lower rates of relapse into maladaptive thought processes leading to self-harming behaviour.

With new discoveries like these on a daily basis, it’s a sincere wish that one day both conditions will have quick treatments available, tailored to the individual’s needs. Here’s to the end of the A-lettered disorders!

Reference: University of Cambridge