Somali Autism Cluster?

April 7th, 2009 | Sources: NY Times


Awhile back, Minneapolis-based special educator Anne Harrington thought she noticed a spike in the number of kids needing services for autism. 

nostoneunturnedThen she noticed that an unusual preponderance of the kids were from families of Somali immigrants.

In fact 25% of kids needing intensive intervention for autism were Somali, even though only 6% of kids in public schools were Somali.

Now the word is out and the closely knit Somali community of 30,000 is terrified something’s amiss.

The Minnesota Department of Health and the CDC have called in their epidemiological sleuths to assess whether the apparent cluster is real.

The investigation faces extreme methodological challenges. For example since the cause of autism remains unknown, officials don’t know what they’re looking for from an etiological standpoint.

And since clinicians and schools don’t apply diagnostic criteria uniformly, it’s hard to trust counts of affected individuals.

Apparently a small study from Stockholm has shown that Somali children populated classes for autistic children at rates 3 times higher than expected given the size of the immigrant community, but checks of Somali communities in Seattle, San Diego and Boston have revealed nothing. 

Some were tempted to invoke living conditions in Somalia or Kenyan refugee camps until it was clarified that almost all afflicted individuals were born here.

herecomestheantivaccinecrowdAntivaccine activists have entered the fray even though Somali children get the same care and vaccines as other kids covered by Medicaid.

That concerns public health officials since many families visit Somalia frequently.

Measles remains an endemic child killer in that country.

Their pitch has worked, and many Somali parents “are resisting immunization,” Children’s Hospital pediatrician Daniel McLellan told the Times.


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