Many in Minneapolis’ Somali community suspect their children are diagnosed with autism at higher rates than others. Now, Autism Speaks is collaborating with two federal agencies to examine if that’s truly the case.

The advocacy group along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health said Tuesday they will work together to study the prevalence of children with autism using a sample population from the Minneapolis Somali community.

Previously, a Minnesota Department of Health report in 2009 found that children of Somali descent were participating in special education programs for autism at higher rates than children from other groups. But the new research effort will attempt to more definitively look at autism prevalence in this population.

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“There have been concerns about higher prevalence of ASD in Minneapolis’ Somali population. We believe it is important to verify if a true increase in prevalence exists, and if so, why it exists,” said Geraldine Dawson, Autism Speaks’ chief science officer.

If a higher prevalence is confirmed within the Somali community, researchers may then examine whether immigration, nutrition or other factors are responsible.

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