kitchen table math, the sequel: autism and anorexia

Sunday, July 8, 2007

autism and anorexia

While I'm on the subject of autism, I came across a fascinating article on autism and anorexia on the BBC.

Girls with autism may not be identified because they do not show traditional signs of the disorder, an expert warns.
Children with autistic spectrum disorders have poor social and communication skills.
Hyperactivity, and interests in technical hobbies have been seen as characteristics of the disorder.
But Christopher Gillberg, of the National Centre of Autism Studies, said girls were often passive and collected information on people, not things.

Around 535,000 people in the UK are estimated to have autistic spectrum disorders.
The number of boys diagnosed is much greater than the number of girls, but Professor Gillberg said the difference in incidence may not be as great as currently thought.

His theory is partly influenced by studies which did not find what they were expected to.
Researchers had looked at the male X chromosome, to see if genetic faults there could influence a boy's risk of developing the condition.
But no conclusive link has been found.
Professor Gillberg said: "Scientists had been very surprised that, so far, so little has come out of research into the X chromosome.
"But it may be that girls present differently to boys.
"The number of females with autism spectrum disorders may be under-diagnosed."
He said studies, including one his team had carried out into women with anorexia who were also autistic, as well as his own clinical practice, had shown the gender difference.
He added: "Autism may be behind many cases of anorexia. A girl may be withdrawn and uncommunicative, without attracting attention, but when she develops a calorie fixation it becomes a serious problem.
"Counting calories may be a manifestation of autism.
"I've seen quite a number of cases where the anorexia has become completely entrenched because people haven't understood that underlying the eating disorder is autism."

I find that incredible. Anorexia as an obsession with counting calories!

Eating disorders are extremely common in autism. Andrew has a fairly severe eating disorder (though it wouldn't be due to counting calories. He may have had it since birth.) For years he was horribly thin; these days he's gained weight due to meds, though the weight gain has stopped, thank God.
I remember years ago asking Ed Ritvo whether girls were simply underdiagnosed because they appeared shy instead of autistic. I was thinking of the actress Daryl Hannah, who had an autism diagnosis as a child, but who seemed autistic to me as an adult, too.

He said it was possible.

Gillberg is a major researcher in the field.


Maddy said...

Very interesting thank you. I know that quite a number of my friends have autistic girls approximately the same age as my boys. They seemed to experience much more difficulty getting a diagnoses [and therefore services].
Although,[as a result] I only know 5 little girls who are autistic they certainly differ considerably from the many many autistic boys I know.
I don't know much about anorexia but I thought that was more of a 'power/control' phenomenon.
Best wishes

Catherine Johnson said...


Anonymous said...

Gillberg is a major researcher in the field.

You need to know who your researchers are: is this by any chance the data that was destroyed before anyone could see it (after he was accused of research misconduct)

Link to the "Gillberg affair"