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The Link Between Autism and Eating Disorders

child eating lettuce and learning about autism and eating disorders

If you’re a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you already know that managing this condition comes with complex challenges. One of the challenges that often goes unnoticed is that children with autism may also struggle with eating disorders. While the connection between the two may seem unexpected, it’s essential to understand how these conditions intersect and impact each other. From undereating as a way to cope with anxiety and sensory sensitivities to over-eating due to a lack of nutritional knowledge or boredom, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders in children with ASD. Our applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy program in Waltham, MA, can help your child with an eating disorder along with any other challenges they may be facing.

An Overview of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are mental health conditions characterized by persistent disturbances in eating behaviors and weight regulation that can cause serious physical and emotional distress. There are various types of eating disorders, including:

  • Anorexia nervosa – Characterized by an intense fear of weight gain, difficulty eating enough food, and a distorted body image
  • Bulimia nervosa – Characterized by eating large amounts of food in a short period of time followed by purging or other compensatory behaviors, such as excessive exercising
  • Binge eating disorder – Characterized by eating large amounts of food in a short period of time without compensatory behaviors
  • Orthorexia – Characterized by an obsession with eating “healthy” or “pure” foods
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) – Characterized by a lack of interest in food or avoidance of certain foods due to sensory aversions

If your child has autism, it’s important to be aware that they may develop any of these conditions. The key is to recognize the signs and symptoms so you can take the necessary steps to get your child the treatment and support they need.

Is There a Link Between Autism and Eating Disorders?

People with autism can struggle with eating disorders in several ways. One reason is that they may experience sensory sensitivities that affect their ability or willingness to eat certain foods. Additionally, people with autism may have difficulty regulating their emotions, which can lead to stress eating or impulsive eating behaviors. Eating disorders can also develop when individuals with autism experience bullying or other forms of social isolation related to their eating habits. There’s evidence that anorexia is more common in people with autism, but all types of eating disorders can occur in this population.

It’s crucial to recognize the symptoms of an eating disorder in someone with ASD. These symptoms can include:

  • Obsessive thoughts about food, body image, and weight
  • Refusal to eat certain foods or food groups based on texture, smell, or taste
  • Erratic eating patterns, such as prolonged fasting, binge eating, or purging
  • Preoccupation with body shape or size
  • Anxiety, depression, or irritability
  • Failure to gain weight or weight loss
  • Excessive exercise routines

Early intervention is essential for the successful treatment of eating disorders in people with ASD. While the link between autism and eating disorders is complex, there are evidence-based therapies that can help individuals overcome these challenges. Applied behavioral analysis therapy can be helpful in addressing the maladaptive eating behaviors associated with eating disorders. ABA therapy focuses on individualized behavior modification to reinforce healthy eating behaviors. The therapist identifies the environmental factors that trigger unhealthy behaviors, develops coping strategies to manage those triggers, and promotes the development of healthy eating habits.

Contact Rising Above ABA for Treatment for Eating Disorders in Children with Autism

Finding out that a child has an autism spectrum disorder can make any parent apprehensive. When a child with autism is struggling with an eating disorder, it can feel overwhelming. However, recognizing the symptoms and seeking out treatment can make a significant difference in helping individuals overcome their challenges. At Rising Above ABA, our team of compassionate therapists is here to provide your child with the support and care they need to live their best life. Contact us today by calling 888.572.7473 or reach out online to learn more about how ABA therapy can help your child overcome an eating disorder.

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