Minnesota Somali families facing autism

The Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating possible causes of autism among Somali children, according to the New York Times.


The cluster of autism seen in Minneapolis's Somali community has parents worried and health experts confounded, according to the article. No explanation has yet been found.

Autism is terrifying the community of Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, and some pediatricians and educators have joined parents in raising the alarm. But public health experts say it is hard to tell whether the apparent surge of cases is an actual outbreak, with a cause that can be addressed, or just a statistical fluke.

A number of causes have been proposed, according to the Times.

Speculation is rampant about possible causes: living conditions in Somalia or in refugee camps in Kenya; traditional medicines; intermarriage; genetic predisposition; vitamin D deficiencies due to a lack of sunlight; and, of course, vaccines.

But each theory has weaknesses.

Most of the children, said Idil Abdull, one of the first mothers of an autistic child to ask the authorities to investigate, were born here and have had the same medical care and shots as any child on Medicaid. It is not a case of misdiagnosis because of language problems; many have siblings doing well in school.

The Hmong, from Southeast Asia, who also immigrated here through refugee camps, do not have high autism rates, Ms. Harrington said.

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