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NIMH Teams Up to Study ASD Rates in Somali-American Children

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Members of a Federal Advisory Group on Autism Mobilize in Response to a Mother’s Plea

Science Update

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NIMH, along with three other NIH Institutes, will be supporting a joint effort with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Autism Speaks, a private advocacy organization, to investigate reports of elevated prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) among children born to Somali immigrants living in Minneapolis, Minn.

At the October 2010 meeting of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) , Idil Abdull, a Somali parent and founder of the Somali American Autism Foundation, described the disproportionate numbers of Somali-American children enrolled in preschool ASD special education programs—up to seven times higher than their non-Somali peers, according to a 2009 report by the Minnesota Department of Health. Committee members, which include NIH, CDC, and Autism Speaks, responded immediately by identifying ongoing research that may be expanded to help answer why such a disparity appears to exist, as well as to determine the service needs of children with ASD in Minneapolis and their families.

"This shared effort demonstrates how members of the IACC can respond quickly and cooperatively to an issue brought to the Committee by the public. An increased prevalence of ASD among this specific Somali population would represent both a scientific opportunity and an urgent public health need," stated Thomas R. Insel, M.D., NIMH Director and chair of the IACC.

With plans to start in early 2011, the three partnering organizations will provide support through a grant to the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) to collect prevalence data using an established surveillance method such as that used by the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

The IACC is a Federal advisory committee that coordinates all efforts within the Department of Health and Human Services concerning ASD. In addition to NIMH, the NIH Institutes supporting this research initiative are:

  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
  • National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities