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Ongoing study examines rates of autism among Somali children in Minneapolis
Is there a higher prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders among Somali children in the Twin Cities? In a word: maybe. According to a study published by the Minnesota Department of Health in 2009, there might be a higher incidence of autism, but the evidence is not complete.
Now researchers at the University of Minnesota are trying to help find the answer to the question. With funding from the CDC, the National Institute on Health, and Autism Speaks, they began conducting the Somali Autism Surveillance study in July of 2011.
According to the CDC, autism spectrum disorders occur on average in 1 of 110 children in the United States. The MDH study focused on the ASD programs through the Early Childhood Special Education Citywide programs that are part of the Minneapolis Public Schools. Researchers examined the percentage of three and four-year-old children participating in the ASD programs. This percentage, which they called “administrative prevalence,” was significantly higher for Somali children than non-Somali children.
For more information about Autism Spectrum Disorder in Minnesota, as well as a link to the MDH study, visit Autism and the Somali Community through the Minnesota Department of Health.
For more information about the Somali Autism Surveillance Project, contact: Kristin Hamre at the University of Minnesota, 612-625-7593.
The Minnesota Department of Health study has several self-identified limitations, such as lack of access to medical records, which left it unable to determine the prevalence of ASD in Somali children in Minneapolis. Researchers did raise some intriguing questions, one asking why there are more Somali children participating in the MPS autism programs than non-Somali children. Some of the proposed answers include the participation of non-Somali children in programs outside Minneapolis public schools, as well as the suggestion that has many parents concerned: there may actually be a higher prevalence of ASD among Somali children.
To further complicate results, researchers found that administrative prevalence decreased over three years, and Asian and Native American children had significantly lower rates of administrative prevalence. Such findings raise even more questions. Could low rates in one group distort the rates of another group?
The surveillance project will address many of the limitations of the MDH study and use CDC methods to study autism in Minneapolis. Included in this study are children who, in 2010, were aged 7 to 9 years and lived in Minneapolis. Researchers are looking beyond Minneapolis public schools.
“Many kids go to private schools,” said Amy Hewitt, co-principal investigator of the study. She explained that another distinguishing aspect of the study is “case verification.” Each child identified as having an ASD will receive a medical assessment and diagnosis. This will verify those children who meet the medical criteria of an ASD as opposed to simply the education criteria. The two criteria could be different, Hewitt said.
Hewitt said that they are currently reaching out to the Somali community for participants in this important study.
© 2012 Andrea Parrott