While eating disorders have been estimated to affect at least 4% of the Australian population, research demonstrates that feeding difficulties and eating disorders are overrepresented in neurodivergent people, including in autism, ADHD, intellectual disability, giftedness, and Tourette’s disorder. However, despite there being a substantial body of literature spanning decades evidencing links between neurodivergence and eating disorders, awareness among clinicians and researchers of this existing knowledge base is only emerging in Australia.
NEDC commissioned Eating Disorders Neurodiversity Australia (EDNA) to write a report, Eating Disorders and Neurodivergence: A Stepped Care Approach, that synthesizes research and lived experience evidence regarding the prevention, early identification and treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating for neurodivergent people.
This report aims to encourage collaboration among stakeholders to co-produce and co-design appropriate, effective, culturally valid, and safe neurodiversity-affirming support systems and care pathways. It is designed for the use of a wide range of stakeholders, especially health care professionals (e.g., psychiatrists, psychologists, dietitians, general practitioners, paediatricians, occupational therapists), researchers, academics, educators (e.g., teachers), service managers, and lived experience experts.
This report draws on fundamental constructs relating to human rights, bioethics, humanistic psychology, phenomenology, and social justice. It challenges traditional understandings of neurodivergence as pathological. It seeks to destigamtise neurodivergent body awareness and image, feeding, and eating experiences and behaviours. It is a call to action for all eating disorder stakeholders to engage in a radical rethink of how neuronormative feeding and eating practices, which influence research and clinical practice across all levels of eating disorder care, may prove harmful for neurodivergent people.