Background: Patients with anorexia may have elevated autistic traits. In this study, we tested test whether patients with anorexia nervosa (anorexia) have an elevated score on a dimensional measure of autistic traits, the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), as well as on trait measures relevant to the autism spectrum: the Empathy Quotient (EQ), and the Systemizing Quotient (SQ).
Methods: Two groups were tested: (1) female adolescents with anorexia: n = 66, aged 12 to 18 years; and (2) female adolescents without anorexia: n =1,609, aged 12 to 18 years. Both groups were tested using the AQ, EQ, and SQ, via the parent-report adolescent versions for patients aged 12 to 15 years old, and the self-report adult versions for patients aged over 16 years.
Results: As predicted, the patients with anorexia had a higher AQ and SQ. Their EQ score was reduced, but only for the parent-report version in the younger age group. Using EQ-SQ scores to calculate 'cognitive types', patients with anorexia were more likely to show the Type S profile (systemizing (S) better than empathy (E)), compared with typical females.
Conclusions: Females with anorexia have elevated autistic traits. Clinicians should consider if a focus on autistic traits might be helpful in the assessment and treatment of anorexia. Future research needs to establish if these results reflect traits or states associated with anorexia.