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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Community newsletter: Anorexia services for autistic women, camouflaging and mental health, INSAR goes virtual again

by  /  21 February 2021

Hello, and welcome to this week’s community newsletter! I’m your host, Chelsey B. Coombs, Spectrum’s engagement editor.

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This week, we’re starting with a study from Autism: “The experience of eating disorder services from the perspective of autistic women, parents and healthcare professionals.” Study investigator Charli Babb, a graduate student at Cardiff University in Wales, tweeted, “We interviewed autistic women, parents and clinicians to help us to understand autistic women’s experiences in #eatingdisorder services.”

Spectrum wrote about anorexia’s link to autism in December. Estimates suggest that roughly 20 percent of people with anorexia are autistic, yet Babb and her colleagues found “diverse barriers facing autistic women when in treatment for anorexia nervosa, and these were accentuated by a lack of autism understanding within eating disorder services.”

Eloise Stark, a postdoctoral researcher and assistant psychologist at the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, called it a “brilliant paper.”

Spectrum reporter Laura Dattaro noted one anecdote from the paper, in which “a woman got ‘told off’ for tiptoe walking and fidgeting bc docs assumed she was trying to burn calories.”

Lily Levy, a child and adolescent mental health services clinician in the United Kingdom, tweeted, “can’t wait to see respectful, applicable and thoughtful research like this folded into practice.”

In the paper, the researchers concluded, “Future research should focus on developing AN interventions that are specifically targeted and/or appropriate for autistic people and those with high levels of autistic traits.”

A study from Levy also garnered a lot of attention this week, a new Molecular Autism paper titled “Is social camouflaging associated with anxiety and depression in autistic adults?

Another paper on camouflaging autism traits came up in our community newsletter a few weeks back. You can also read more on this topic in our 2018 Deep Dive, “The costs of camouflaging autism.”

The new study surveyed 305 autistic adults who self-reported camouflaging, as well as symptoms of general anxiety, social anxiety and depression. Camouflaging was linked to elevated anxiety, social anxiety and depression, although its effect on these traits contributed “only to a small extent beyond the contribution of autistic traits and age.” The researchers also found that camouflaging had similar mental health effects for people who identify as men and as women. Nonbinary people were surveyed, but there were too few included to understand how camouflaging affected this group.

For more on the study’s findings, check out this thread by study investigator and University College London postdoctoral researcher Laura Hull.

In her own thread, Levy tweeted that she hopes “our paper contributes to a body of work that makes society genuinely respectful of autistic people, your agency, your incredible contributions, and your communication.”

Sarah O’Brien, research and policy officer at the U.K. autism research charity Autistica, wrote that the study was an “absolutely fab piece of research from two powerhouses of research who really understand autistic people and the impact of applied research.”

Occupational therapist Inês Malheiros replied, “Hopefully, this will help a lot of professionals, myself included, think twice about the goals, interventions and suggestions they’re giving to children.”

In other news, The International Society for Autism Research announced this week that its annual meeting, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, will be fully virtual again and is slated for 3 May to 7 May.

We’re looking forward to seeing you all there!

That’s it for this week’s Spectrum community newsletter. If you have any suggestions for interesting social posts you saw in the autism research sphere this week, feel free to send an email to me at [email protected]. See you next week!