Istahil Ma’alin, who has an autistic son, said, “They told us that what our eyes feel, they feel it, too.”
Dr. Magnan said possible next steps included extending the study to Minneapolis suburbs or other cities with Somali populations or doing a study based on medical diagnoses that would try to determine autism rates statewide. But she added that creating statewide registries was difficult and expensive, even for easier-to-diagnose illnesses like cancer.
Dr. Magnan noted that this study found “strikingly low” numbers of Asian and American Indian children in the same special-education classes. But she cautioned that the reason might not be lower autism rates; instead, parents might not be enrolling their children in those classes, or might be sending them to private schools.
The study was done in consultation with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coleen Boyle, director of the agency’s division of birth defects and developmental disabilities, called the study well done but preliminary, adding, “It highlights the importance of ongoing monitoring.”
There are no plans yet to study autism in Somalis elsewhere or to do genetic studies, Dr. Boyle said.
The disease control agency monitors autism diagnoses among 8-year-old children in 14 sites around the country, and in 2007 it estimated that about 1 child in 150 had an autism-spectrum disorder. Rates are roughly the same for whites and blacks, Catherine Rice, another C.D.C. official, said recently. They are lower among Hispanics, possibly because of poor medical care or cultural reticence, she said. Too few Asians were monitored to make estimates.
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