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U of M study finds autism affects Somali children differently

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In the largest study of its kind, University of Minnesota researchers found young Somali children with autism in Minneapolis fare worse than other children with the developmental disorder, the Star Tribune says.

According to the report, one in 32 Somali children in the 2010 survey of 7- to 9-year-olds met the diagnostic criteria for autism compared to one in 36 white children.

But the major difference between the two groups is that Somali children with autism also had related intellectual disorders, such as a lower IQ, meaning "the ways in which autism presents itself in these children are very different,” according to the study's primary investigator Amy Hewitt.

The newspaper says researchers examined medical records from thousands of participating families to determine whether children met the criteria for autism versus counting the number of children already diagnosed.

The rates were significantly lower among non-Somali black children, one in 62, and Hispanic children, one in 80.

news release points out that the study did not include rates among Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American children due to their low numbers.

Although the study does not address what's causing the disparities, researchers say it's a step in the right direction.

"This project was not designed to tell us why these differences exist, but its findings support the need for more research on why and how ASD (autism spectrum disorder) affects Somali and non-Somali children and families differently,” Hewitt said in a news release.

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