Based upon lived experience, I've been conducting research on theories for negative body image and disordered eating and their applications among neurodiverse populations, specifically autistic individuals. Researchers are encouraged to develop evidence-based practice based upon theoretical models to inform their content, design and administration, they are predominantly cognitive-behavioural in their approach and are based upon neurotypical foundations.
Autistic individuals are found to have an increased risk for developing body and eating-related disorders, e.g. anorexia nervosa and ARFID, subsequent to certain autistic traits or difficulties, e.g. sensory sensitivities, thinking styles and the need for control.
Given that theory is limited to neurotypical characteristics or abilities, current practice lacks the necessary acknowledgement about how autistic individuals may uniquely experience or present negative body image and disordered eating. Consequently, existing practice lacks adaptation and translation for neurodiverse individuals – specifically, inaccurately capturing or targeting their concerns.
With this in mind, I've been examining existing research in order to investigate negative body image and disordered eating among autistic individuals, and suggest potential causes and consequences which are unique to this population. This is with the aim to help guide future research and practice about how to better support autistic individuals experiencing body and eating-related difficulties.
As a result, I and my colleague, Lilli Clark at the University of Edinburgh, have published a paper in Frontiers in Psychology (Eating Behaviours) called Integrating the Autistic Experience Into Existing Models for Disordered Eating, which discusses these limitations in existing theory and practice. This paper is now readily available through open access.
Furthermore, I've presented this work at the International Conference of Eating Disorders 2022 and received a student abstract award from the Body Image and Prevention Special Interest Group at the Academy of Eating Disorders (AED). I'll also be presenting a preliminary model on negative body image and disordered eating among autistic individuals at the Autistica Research Festival 2022.
Research is important for clients, for practitioners and politically to continue to demonstrate that counselling changes lives.
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