Educator Anne Harrington and pediatrician, Dr. Dan McLellan both noticed an unusual number of Somali children turning up in their autism programs in Minneapolis, and began to wonder why.
Now that question has captured the attention of Minnesota state and federal health officials, as fears about a possible surge in autism sweep Minnesota's Somali community.
Autism, a brain disorder that can cause disruptive and withdrawn behavior, has been rising rapidly throughout the country. The discovery of a cluster among Somalis could be significant, or could just be a statistical fluke.
Last year, Somali children made up just under 6 percent of the school population, but 17 percent of those in early childhood autism programs. The numbers have been creeping up for several years, especially among young children.
* Star Tribune August 24, 2008