Managing Editor's Note: We are pleased to welcome Abdulkadir Khalif as our newest Contributing Editor.
By: Abdulkadir Khalif
On the last day of March 2009, the Minnesota Department of Health finally produced a report on the prevalence of autism in the Somali immigrant population of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was obvious from the numbers that the issue of prevalence has finally been settled, and that there definitely is a cluster of autism in Minneapolis. The MDH arrived at these conclusions not from their own investigations but from that of the MN department of Education. These are the very numbers that the MDH initially doubted and which the CDC poured cold water on towards the end of last year. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank the MN Department of Education for leading the way in the fight against autism in Minneapolis and for showing, on their own, that they (the teachers) know better than the healthcare professionals that autism has a cluster in Minneapolis, especially amongst the people of Somali ethnic group. I hope that the MDH together with the CDC will now come down from the ivory tower and start planning on how to confront this epidemic.
(This is Abdimalik Khalif.)
What do the numbers say? The numbers say that for the 3-4 year age groups alone, the Somali kids are 7 times as likely to seek special education services for autism as compared with the other populations. However the MDH still insists that those numbers alone will not determine the issue of prevalence. In the absence of anything else to show the contrary how can they say that the issue of prevalence has not yet been settled? To make matters worse, the MDH is not coming up with plans to confront the epidemic except to say that they will carry out more investigations. If they doubt the numbers given by the schools, why didn’t they come up with one of their own after six months of promises? I suppose they know that their numbers will show even bigger numbers and they were scared of that. Let me say here and now that the largest number of Somali kids with autism are those older than 4 years of age. Many of those kids are in grade special education classes and are out of range of early diagnoses. Many of them do not speak yet and are not even getting adequate services beyond what little the schools offer them. The medical establishment is absent from their therapies and medication. The families are desperate and poor. Many of them are single parents who have been abandoned by their spouses because of the stresses that come with sometimes raising several autistic kids under one roof.
Because of the publicity that this issue is getting, Somali immigrant communities in Sweden, Canada and other parts of the United States are becoming more aware of the prevalence of autism within their own communities. Suffice to say that those countries have a lot in common with the USA and especially Minnesota (climate, healthcare etc.). Is not then fair to say that there are several clusters of autism affecting people of one genetic make-up in the northern hemisphere? Can’t that fact alone excite scientists and governments into thinking that the world may finally be zooming in to the cause and cures of autism? There is no autism in Somalia but autism is ravaging Somali immigrants in the northern hemisphere. What are the differences in lifestyles, foods, medicines etc between Somalia and the northern hemispheric countries where Somalis have settled? I would hope that the answer to this question is the opportunity that we have all been waiting for to answer the autism puzzle. Many months ago, and in my last piece on this site I stated that we might be approaching the solution to this problem, if only we shall accept that there are clusters and that we are prepared to think outside the box. Having said that, I wish to move on to something else.
The Somali immigrant families are now aware that autism is not an isolated case for individual families. It is not a curse that has befallen their particular families. It is not a strange disease that brings stigma to them and that they can share information with their neighbors and relatives about seeking ways and means of helping their children. But they know something else. The MDH has no answers for them, nor do their doctors and politicians. Their insurance will not cover other therapies that they may need. Their children will not recover on their own and their condition could be a lifelong handicap. Yesterday’s report did not give them anything to look forward to-only to expect bigger numbers in the future. The government has no plans at all on how to deal with this epidemic. The few resources in the state are overwhelmed and the waiting list is several years long. There are no adequately trained personnel, nor is there adequate funding. Actually there are talks of cut-backs on certain social programs. They are on their own and they are least prepared for this. We are looking for ideas and help from the general public and friendly organizations and sympathetic individuals everywhere. Our Parents Organization (Parents United Against Autism) is launching an appeal for help for these families. The kinds of help we need are:
• Doctors with experience in autism therapies who could volunteer their time
• Laboratories who could help with testing and analysis as their contribution to the cause
• Individuals and corporations who could help with medicines and other appropriate tools and equipment as a show of solidarity with the stricken families
• Any other appropriate help for the families.
We at PAA would be more than happy to help with establishing contacts with the families and facilitating any and all needs by all sides.
Please help us in this worthy cause. Thanking you in advance.