Autism a growing concern in Somali community - KMSP-TV

Autism a growing concern in Somali community

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

Evidence is clear that growing concern is warranted about autism rates in the Somali community, and the next step is to figure out why.

Research compiled by the University of Minnesota's Institute of Community Integration focused on Minneapolis children between the ages of 7 and 9.

The question: Are Somali children diagnosed with autism -- a brain development disorder that can impact social interaction, communication skills and the building of relationships – more often than the general population?

Congressman Keith Ellison weighed in on the subject at a Monday night "get to know your congressman" event in the heart of Minneapolis' Somali community.

"It's a big concern. Autism is sort of a vexing problem," Ellison said. "There's already an East African Autism Association where people come together to talk about what therapies work, how they can help their children."

The U's research revealed that 1 in 32 Somali children met the medical criteria for autism -- the numbers jumped to 1 in 36 white children, 1 in 62 non-Somali African Americans and 1 in 80 Hispanic children.

Abdirizak Bihi is the director of Somali education and social advocacy at a Minneapolis community center.

"It's a high number of young people. We need to do more studies. Above all, we are concerned about services to our community," Bihi said.

Pat Pulice is on the front lines of the autism battle in the Twin Cities -- she heads up the Autism Center at Fraser, a local non-profit working with special needs children of all walks of life.

Pulice explained that the research shows exactly what her organization has seen on the ground: More Somali families coming forward in need of services.

"Yes, I think there were some things in the study that were somewhat surprising," she said.

The next thing Pulice and so many others in the community want to understand is the reasoning being the high diagnoses.

"Of course, we'd all like to get to the why in order to better serve these families and help understand," Pulice said.

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