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Special Education

‘The Disease From Abroad’

By Christina A. Samuels — April 14, 2009 1 min read
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The past few days have featured news stories in various publications about the prevalence of autism among Somali immigrants in the United States:

First, there was a March article in the New York Times.

Then there was this story and this one, both published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in April about the topic. From one article:

Abdull, 36, was one of the first parents to sound the alarm that a surprising number of Somali-American children were enrolled in autism classes in Minneapolis. More than a year ago, she started calling local, state and federal officials to raise her concerns, and wouldn't take no for an answer until the Minnesota Department of Health agreed to investigate. ... If this turns out to be a true cluster -- a larger-than-normal outbreak in one group -- what's happening in Minneapolis could have global implications, providing clues to the mystery of autism itself.

And now, a recent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail suggests that autism is also prevalent among Canadian Somali immigrants:

The condition, which Somalis call the "western disease" or the "disease from abroad," appears to have struck their community with a particular vengeance. While no data are available on prevalence, Somali parents in Canada are concerned enough to go public about what they say is a sleeping epidemic.

The challenge of tracking the disorder there is that statistics are not kept by ethno-racial groups, but more research in Canada is planned. These cases may provide part of the key to understanding the roots and causes of autism.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.