Autistic women are much more likely to develop anorexia than non-autistic women. This project will provide evidence to improve treatment and services.

More than 1 in 5 women with anorexia are autistic. There is an urgent need for better mental health care for autistic women with anorexia to ensure they can live healthy, happy lives. 

Most current anorexia therapies in the NHS focus on weight and body shape but these may not be important factors in autistic women with the disease. 

Research shows that anorexia in autism is caused by 

  • high levels of anxiety
  • rigid, rule-driven eating and exercising behaviour
  • sensory problems with food
  • difficulties sensing hunger

Explaining the need for this project

Anorexia Nervosa is a severe eating disorder that affects women and men. 

Autistic women are much more likely to develop anorexia than non-autistic women. 

Anorexia has the worst outcomes of any mental health condition. 

The research process

Two PhD students will be interviewing autistic women with anorexia, their families and healthcare professionals to ask them about

  • practical problems getting referred to the right services
  • practical problems accessing treatment
  • whether treatment was effective
  • autistic traits that might cause anorexia and allow it to persist

They will develop a model of anorexia nervosa in autism and test it with 

  • autistic women with anorexia
  • non-autistic women with anorexia
  • autistic women without anorexia

How this project is making a difference

Autistic women with anorexia have been sharing their experiences of a lack of autism awareness in current services.

Drawing on these insights, researchers will be able to 

  • increase awareness of which patients with anorexia have autism through a better understanding of their eating difficulties
  • develop best practice for autism screening and assessment in eating disorder services
  • show how eating disorder services can become more autism friendly 
  • show which treatments might be more effective for anorexia in autistic women
  • show how treatments might be adapted to make them more effective for autistic women