There has been increasing awareness recently that many girls on the autism spectrum are overlooked until much later in life, which can be the source of confusion and distress for the girls themselves and those who care for them. The reason behind this has been rightfully attributed to girls with autism presenting differently to a stereotypical autistic person, as well as girls often learning to ‘camouflage’ themselves to fit in socially. Another contributing factor which is still being overlooked is that autism often coincides with eating disorders.

An article reviewing the literature on the comorbidity by researchers at Kings College London and published in Current Psychiatry Reports indicated that between 4 and 52.5 per cent of anorexia patients also had ASD, compared with 1 per cent of the general population. Expert opinion is still divided as to causality, the leading theories being a shared genetic vulnerability for both conditions and that undiagnosed autism is leading to anorexia as a secondary condition.

Regardless of the cause, the far greater awareness of eating disorders in girls mean that clinicians will often focus exclusively on treatment of the one condition as opposed to a more comprehensive management plan for both. This not only means that girls can end up dealing with undiagnosed ASD for much longer, but also the treatment for the eating disorder can be effective due to not being properly tailored to girls with autism.

– Caitlin Fitzsimmons

Read the article: Eating disorders can mask autism in girls

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