Autistic women struggle with high levels of both autistic eating behaviours and disordered eating behaviours, which might make them particularly vulnerable to develop eating disorders. Research investigating the presence and characteristics of eating disorders in autistic women is however limited, as is research examining the role of autism in the treatment and recovery of an eating disorder in autistic women.
The link between autism and eating disorders has mainly been investigated from the field of eating disorder research, with studies finding an overrepresentation of autism or autistic traits in eating disorders populations. Findings also suggest that autism or autistic traits are associated with a more serious presentation of the eating disorders, including a higher chance of a chronic course of the eating disorders. Most studies however lack comprehensive autism assessments, making it difficult to determine the actual prevalence of autism and its role in women with eating disorders.
Autistic women with an eating disorder seem to suffer from more complex eating disorders and seem to not benefit from current treatment modalities. This could be partly related to specific autism characteristics such as sensory sensitivities, which are not being considered by current treatment protocols. Future research needs to shed light on what underlies the eating behaviours of autistic women with an eating disorder, in order to help to adapt current treatment modalities to meet the unique needs of these women.