Autism Rates Soar in US' Biggest Somali Community

Minneapolis rates far above national average
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 17, 2013 12:11 AM CST
Updated Dec 17, 2013 1:54 AM CST
Autism Rates Soar in Biggest US Somali Community
Members of the Somali community visit in a park in Minneapolis.    (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

A health puzzle in Minneapolis: Autism rates in the city are way above the national average, especially in the city's Somali-American community, which is the nation's biggest. Autism spectrum disorders affect around one in 88 American children, but the rate in Minneapolis is one in 48 overall, rising to an alarming one in 36 among white children and one in 32 among Somali children, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The autistic Somali children were also much more likely to have learning disabilities like low IQs, but researchers have no idea why.

A study in Sweden uncovered similarly high rates of autism among the children of Somali immigrants, though the disorder is so unfamiliar in Somalia that the language had no word for it until recently. "Autism is silencing the kids of a nation of poets," the Somali-American mother of an autistic child tells the New York Times. "Whether it's something in our genes and you add it to Minnesota snow or what, I don't know, but something's triggering autism. My dad taught me to recite poetry at age 4, and my kid is 11 and he can’t say two sentences. It’s heartbreaking." (More autism stories.)

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