Knight Foundation Supports Autism Pilot Study

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The EMU Autism Collaborative Center (ACC) has received $25,000 from the Knight Foundation to underwrite a pilot study of adolescents and young adults with and without eating disorders to determine the origin of such disorders. The intention is to clarify the prevalence of these issues among ASD individuals (that is, high functioning autism/Asperger syndrome), including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, bulimarexia, and binge-eating disorder. 

"In addition," says Judi Brooks, Professor of Dietetics and Human Nutrition and Principal Investigator, “we’re gathering information that will help to clarify subtype-specific treatments. A key part of the study will also investigate gender issues in this population. Are girls more likely than boys to develop early or later eating problems similar to typical girls?

“In the ASD population, parents often place their children on very restrictive diets hoping to reverse the effects of autism. And research indicates that eating disorders in the general population may originate from a restrictive diet. We wonder whether this practice sets the stage for eating disorders among the ASD population.”

Brooks says that the project team plans to hire a Registered Dietitian who will work with Renee Lajiness-O’Neill and Thomas Schmitt, both of Psychology, on designing the study and analyzing data. The study will be conducted as a survey of families living with autism and compared with typical families. The anticipated 450 participants will be recruited in various ways.

"A major concern for children with autism is whether they will grow up to lead independent lives,” Brooks concludes. “A critical factor is proper management of diet and nutrition. In addition, the information from this study may help us acquire more information about how eating disorders develop in the typical population. Still another benefit of our research is that EMU students in the dietetics and nutrition major can participate, which will enhance their educational experience generally and better prepare them specifically for careers working with families living with autism."

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