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  • Run by King’s College London, in partnership with South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
  • Aimed to improve clinical outcomes for women with a dual diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and anorexia nervosa within South London and Maudsley NHS specialist eating disorder service.
  • Introduced specialised treatment adaptations for patients and enhanced staff support through an innovative care pathway based on clinical experience.
  • Delivered between January 2019 and March 2020.

Around 35% of patients with anorexia also have autism spectrum disorder. Patients with both conditions have more severe eating disorder symptoms and do not respond as well to treatment. Patients, carers and staff can feel frustrated because traditional approaches to anorexia do not fit the needs of this patient group, for which there are currently no tailored treatment packages or clinical recommendations.

King’s College London set out to address this gap in treatment provision by implementing the Pathway for Eating disorders and Autism developed from Clinical Experience (PEACE) to improve clinical outcomes for women within South London and Maudsley NHS specialist eating disorder service.

Autism screening measures were introduced for all admissions to ensure early identification so that treatment and care provision could be adjusted to take individual sensory profiles into account.

As well as physical adaptations to the wards, such as simplifying the environment, a new optional sensory-sensitive menu, occupational therapy groups, and cognitive and emotional training programmes were introduced. Carers were also supported through psychoeducation and group workshops to inform them about helpful treatment adaptations.

Regular training on recognising, diagnosing and adapting treatment for patients with autism, along with multidisciplinary team huddles and discussion of case studies, increased staff skills and confidence. Patient and staff wellbeing workshops resulted in both groups feeling better understood, and more aware of their physical, psychological and wellbeing needs.

Thanks to the PEACE team’s perseverance through initial staff and patient resistance, the pathway is now firmly established as part of eating disorder service culture. Lessons learnt have been summarised in a book, combining research findings and first-hand accounts, to inform successful implementation of similar pathways in other services.

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. 

About this programme

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