Why the High Autism Rate for Somali Children in Minneapolis?

Back in July of 2008MinnPost.com reported a troubling finding, that first generation U.S.-born Somali-speaking children in Minneapolis schools were being disproportionately identified as having autism. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it will be conducting a study as to whether or not there are unusually high rates of autism in Somali children in Minnesota. The National Institutes of Heath and advocacy organization Autism Speaks are also working on the new study. 

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, back in 2008:


in the Minneapolis’ early childhood and kindergarten programs, more than 12 percent of the students with autism reported speaking Somali at home. According to Minneapolis school officials, more than 17 percent of the children in the district’s early childhood special education autism program are Somali speaking.


Almost 6 percent of the district’s total enrollment is made up of Somali-speaking students, and about 6 percent of the children in the district’s overall early childhood and kindergarten special education programs are Somali.

Anne Harrington, early childhood special education coordinator for the Minneapolis district, noted in 2008 that it’s the “‘more severe forms of autism that we’re seeing in our Somali babies that are born here,’” and that more than a few families have two autistic children. She also commented that the Somali community is struggling to find health services and understand autism. Many in the autism community and the scientific community, including Dr. Steve Novella at the Neurologica blog, offered commentary that, one hopes, the researchers in the just-announced study will take into consideration. Wrote Dr. Novella:

So the first question to answer with any apparent cluster is – does this represent a real epidemiological phenomenon.




One problem with the cluster hypothesis is that other immigrant Somali communities have not experienced increased autism rates. If there is an environmental trigger causing the two identified clusters, why are there not clusters in these other communities?


If it turns out to be true that autism rates have significantly increased in some Somali immigrant communities, above what is seen in Somalia or in non-Somali in the same communities, then we can conclude that something is going on and a potential trigger should be sought.


It also has to be noted that autism is really a collection of diseases, not a specific disease. So we may be seeing a new entity that has clinical overlap in features and symptoms with recognized forms of autism.

While it might seem that the new study will be focused on a specific population, the results will very likely be carefully scrutinized by many. Ever since the rate of autism in Somali children in Minneapolis schools was announced, there has been quite a lot of speculation as to why this is the case. Proponents of the belief that there must be an environmental cause for the dramatic increase in the autism rate in the past decade—once considered a rare condition, autism is now diagnosed in about 1 in 110 children in the US—have seized upon the high rate of autism in Somali children in the Twin Cities as evidence of a ‘cluster,’ with some pointing the finger at vaccinations and to a theory that a Vitamin D deficiency can be linked to autism.  (It must be stated that there is more and more evidence that there is no link between vaccines and autism.)

Indeed, MPR News reports that, in December of 2010, Dr. Andrew Wakefield ‘visited Minneapolis to gather data and money for research into autism rates among Somali-American children.’ Dr. Wakefield is the British doctor whose 1998 study claiming a connection between autism and the MMR vaccine was all a ‘deliberate fraud,’ as reported in a recently published series of articles in BMJ (British Medical Journal) by journalist Brian Deer.  It goes without saying that whatever research Dr. Wakefield conducts ought to even more carefully scrutinized, given the ‘manufacturing‘ of the data in his 1998 study.

Let’s hope that the new CDC/NIH/Autism Speaks study finds real answers to what’s going on among Somali children in Minneapolis.

By PV2 Andrew W. McGalliard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


William C
William C2 months ago

Sorry to hear this, thanks for the information.

W. C
W. C2 months ago

Thank you for caring.

John S.
John S.6 years ago

Autism and schizophrenia are both associated with similar groups of mutations that can either be expressed or not expressed. The DNA that a person is born with doesn’t change, but certain small molecules in the body control whether the small genes in the very long strand of DNA ever get made into proteins or not. Methylation, acetylation, ubiquination and other epigenetic protein controlling molecular bonding tricks determine which of the mutated and normal genes are expressed. What the one carbon methyl or two carbon acetyl and other small molecules do is to stick to the edges of the long strand of DNA and prevent floating strands of RNA, that make the proteins, to move in close enough to read the gene sequences. If RNA and transport proteins can't touch the inherited DNA, they can't put together the thousands of essential animal proteins needed for good health. If the mutated genes are fully methylated or blocked by some other small molecule, they don't become expressed. It's best if gene mutations don't express. In the case of tumor supressor genes, they should be fully demethylated and exposed, so the transport molecules and RNA will fit in to read the DNA. Then, the tumor suppressor genes will be able to express. How the body figures out how to control all these metabolic chain reactions is the great mystery.
In the case of increased prevalence of autism in the Somali community, it is probably related to the genetic sequences that each child is born with. The si

jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago


Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

The Somali connection to autism could be a clue that helps solve the issue of cause. Hope they find it soon and it is preventable.
Thanks for the article.

Laura Mancuso
Laura Mancuso6 years ago

Thanks for keeping us so well informed.

Kerrie W.
Kerrie Waldron7 years ago

Anne Marie K-

I disagree that Kristina Chew isn't being "thought provoking" and it's only natural that she should write on autism as it's so close to her heart .
She also writes on a variety of other topics.
Yes-she has a "position" ,as most of us do, and I do get annoyed when she parrots MSM (Main Stream Media) without getting the real story of who is funding the lies(-"follow the money") for a truly investigative journalism piece....... and she never questions the vicious Ad Hominem attacks or why they are so viciously destroying reputations and careers of anyone who even seeks answers then asks for more research(!!!!)into autism (which is why I criticised her for not doing her homework) .

MSM is mostly a self feeding vicious circle (quote each other word for word without acknowledgement) and I do expect better from an "alternate" like Care 2 ,but Kristina does bring interesting topics to our attention, just like all the Care 2 'journos".

Kerrie W.
Kerrie Waldron7 years ago

(It must be stated that there is more and more evidence that there is a link between vaccines and autism.)



while "Immunization is viewed by Somali parents as something very positive.".........
many expressed frustration over not fully understanding immunization and the process of vaccinating their children. One parent stated, “When I saw them bringing four or so needles, I told them to stop right there because if you injected all that into a newborn, you could kill him.” Others expressed frustrations and concerns, complaining that nobody explained the risks and benefits to them and that they wanted to learn. One parent commented, “My baby had fever, the area was swollen and I didn’t know what to do.”
"We are rarely told what the vaccines are for, what they protect against, and why the child needs them. They call you and say to come and get your shot. Shot, shot, shot. Shot this and shot that."

Seems the Somalis are learning the hard way, as I did?

Ainsley Chalmers
Ainsley Chalmers7 years ago

my theory. Somali kids have dark skin and in minneapolis there is not much sunlight in winter. so a combination of dark skin (hi skin melanin) plus low sunlight exposure points to low vitamin D levels. vitamin D has a role in cell (?brain) differentiation/development as well as calcium absorption

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman7 years ago

Vaccines :0