The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

The Wakefield saga continues…with Minnesota in sight

with one comment

January 2011 is quickly going down as “Wakefield month” for autism followers. I’ll get to the new bombshell about an investigation turning up evidence suggesting Wakefield’s motives behind his debunked study were ethically compromised on my next post, but a move he made before then didn’t score brownie points with some experts in Minnesota. FOX 9, the Twin Cities’ FOX affiliate, reported Wakefield visiting Minnesota to recruit Somali parents for a research study that he is financing, but not conducting. Wakefield believes a cure could be found within the Somali community, believing a vitamin D deficiency from Minnesota’s dark winters could explain the rapid growth of autism among children of Somali descent. Other medical experts are concerned that Wakefield’s seeking to exploit a population still adapting to a culture they never knew existed before moving from the Horn of Africa. With Somalia in turmoil for the last 20 years, many immigrants call autism an “American disease,” with virtually no discussion of the disability in their native land. You can probably guess why if you know the country’s had no working government since 1991.

While Wakefield will attract attention almost anywhere with the developments since the start of 2011, the Somali angle is far more limited as their community has only recently migrated to the United States. Minnesota has the largest Somali population, much like the haven Hmong immigrants saw when they departed from Laos following the Vietnam War. Just like Hmong immigrants needed time to absorb an environment vastly different than their own, Somali immigrants will also need time to adjust. Complicating the process are elements impossible to anticipate, and for Minnesota’s Somali community, autism happens to represent one of those elements. Having no knowledge of autism before, they parallel parents and activists who are more fiercely engaged as they struggle for answers, making them more susceptible to people with new approaches.

Does that mean Minnesota Somalis are fools? Absolutely not. Despite the geographical difference, many parents will fight to the death for their children, and will not rest as they seek answers for potential issues. As Somalis continue their integration with the United States, they’ll continue adapting, learning and discovering things other citizens take for granted. Those reasons at least theorize why so few articles about autism’s impact in Minnesota’s Somali demographic have been published up to this point. Predicting the frequency or accessibility of the Somali community is virtually impossible since emotional responses cannot be simulated, but this does reinforce the fact that autism can affect anyone.

FOX 9 simply took notice of national news and found a local tie that is still relatively new in regards to press coverage. How Minnesota’s Somali community responds to autism will certainly get the attention of Twin Cities journalists. How journalists report stories about my home state’s newest immigrant bloc is the bigger question.

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Written by TheSportsBrain

January 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm

One Response

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  1. Thank you so much for the above comment.

    Yes, we are struggling with autism and all that it entails. We are also weary of those non-Somalis that might try to divide and cherry pick us for their own motives. We are very much aware of Wakefield’s past and research history. We also need answers to this devastating disorder that seems to have taken hostage of our lives. We immigrated to America similar to those immigrants before us with the hope of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Autism is altering our American dream and hope that Americans will guide us in solving this autism puzzle that has also altered many other American children’s dreams as well.

    Thanks much for your support.
    Idil – Somali Autism Mom that first raised awareness of this autism issue.

    Idil Abdull

    April 2, 2011 at 3:33 am


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