Maybe Somali polygamy perpetuates possible gene connection to autism

wrote a post a little over a week ago about how Somali refugee children in America are showing extremely high and unexplained rates of autism for those born in the US.   Minnesota schools are seeing these children enter the sytsem and are attempting to cope with the alarming influx.

In our earlier post we cited an article that had a couple of possible suggestions.  One was the usual complaint about immunizations and the other was the possibility that the relative lack (compared to Africa) of sunshine in Minnesota (and Sweden where the problem is also appearing) might explain the high rate.

However, this article in a blog called “A War of Illusions” leads to another possible cause for the high rate of autism in Somalis in America.  But, first here is what the post says about the situation in Minnesota where a conference will soon take place to address the crisis.

About a quarter of all autism children who attend autism classrooms for students functioning too low to be mainstreamed in regular schoolrooms are Somali. Special education specialists said that indicates that the degree of autism Somali children are developing is on the severe end of the autism spectrum.

“I’m not seeing Aspergers syndrome and the full spectrum of autism in Somali children. It is the more classic forms of autism in general; it is the more severe forms of autism that we’re seeing in our Somali babies that are born here,” said Anne Harrington, early childhood special education coordinator for the Minneapolis district and a specialist on the topic.

“If they’re having more children, many of the siblings also have autism. We have a number of [Somali] families who have two children on the autism spectrum and sometimes more. I’ve been working to get somebody to look at this and pay attention because it feels like this is too specific [to Somalis]. It’s got to be preventable,” Harrington said.

The article also tells us there is a lot of shame in the Somali community associated with families who have autistic children which makes me think that the tough life in Africa may have eliminated some of these children at a young age thus making it appear that somehow their move to the US is responsible for a jump in the numbers.

The blogger then leads us to new research that may show that autism is genetic. 

Many cases of autism are caused by genetic defects that disrupt the brain’s ability to learn, according to groundbreaking research that promises to lead to new therapies.

To do the research scientists needed to find large families in which cousins married cousins—they found them in Muslim countries in the Middle East.

Research into autism genetics has been hampered by the difficulty of finding autistic and non-autistic siblings in the same family to study. To get around this, the new study investigated 88 families from the Middle East, Turkey and Pakistan, where the average number of children is much larger than in Europe and America. The scientists also concentrated on families in which the mother and father were cousins, which is a risk factor for autism.

In five families, they found large segments of the genome were missing. Non-autistic members still had one working copy of these regions, but those with autism lacked working copies altogether.

I suggest genetic researchers check these Minnesota Somali families many of whom may be linked by a few polygamous fathers—an Islamic cultural practice creeping into America with the refugees—and a surefire way to spread a defective gene.   Or if political correctness hinders that line of questioning, at least check the cousins marrying cousins angle.

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