This project was funded between January 2019 and March 2020.

  • Project led by King’s College London, in partnership with the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
  • Will develop recommendations for a structured pathway for women with autism spectrum disorder and anorexia nervosa.
  • Aiming to improve care and introduce specialised treatment adaptations for patients with both conditions.

Around 35% of patients with anorexia nervosa (AN) also have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Comorbid ASD has been shown to worsen treatment outcomes and impede treatment processes, due to ASD features such as cognitive inflexibility, sensory-based food avoidance and resistance to change. 

Clinical audit data from King’s College London show that patients with ASD and AN have more severe eating disorder symptoms and a poor prognosis, and patients, carers and staff can feel frustrated because traditional approaches to AN do not fit the needs of this patient group.

There are currently no guidelines or treatment recommendations for women with both conditions. This project will involve developing tailored care pathways for women with ASD and AN, to improve clinical outcomes and address the gap in treatment provision.

Patients will be recruited from the specialist eating disorder service. They will be screened for ASD on admission and then invited to take part in the project. 

One significant intervention will be an adaptation to the refeeding programme to promote an effective and sustained nutritional recovery programme, tailored to the needs of these patients. 

The wider treatment programme, including psychological therapies (e.g. cognitive and emotion processing training, wellbeing workshops, positive communication workshops, and the Tree of Life model), will be adapted for this group of patients. Carers will be taught these adaptations for treatment to continue at home.

It is anticipated that around 60 patients will take part in the project, over 12 months. Outcomes will be assessed using clinical measures and patient feedback.

Contact information

For more information about this project, please contact Dr Kate Tchanturia, Consultant Clinical Psychologist/Professor in Psychology of Eating Disorders, King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. 

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