Written By: Ashley Triehy-Kreitler, APRN, FNP-BC 

Happy World Autism Day! You may be thinking, why it is important to celebrate this day or how it pertains to eating disorder management and recovery? The purpose behind celebrating Autism and bringing awareness to the wide spectrum of Autism Disorders. World Autism Day is used as a way to highlight the potential areas of improvement in quality of life, provide a better understanding to the general public and to facilitate more education and research regarding therapies used in home, school and work life.  

An interesting fact about Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASD, is that there is a link to the development of Anorexia Nervosa or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). There are many studies that have been completed and continue to be explored to better understand this link. It is important to identify the behaviors that are presented to better determine therapies that will prove to be beneficial to the person. Not every person’s diagnosis is the same, just as not every person’s treatment will be the same. Many healthcare professionals find that collaboration among the treatment teams has proven to be the most effective in treating eating disorders in those with Autism.  

Just as it is important to understand the behaviors that may be linked between both spectrums of disorders, it is important to consider the emotional regulation component. One of the known aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorders is the prevalence of emotional dysregulation, or the inability to regulate their emotions. This can be evident through emotional outbursts, inability to verbalize feelings or withdrawing from stressful situations.  

Often times in eating disorders, avoidance of specific foods or textures can be seen as a tool or coping mechanism for the person to control their emotional response in their environment. The same can be said for restriction of food. In controlling food intake, it sends a signal to the reward center in the brain that releases certain chemicals, like dopamine, that can help calm the emotional dysregulation. This concept is important for all team members to understand, including parents or caregivers, to help provide the best care possible!