This blog is a way of sharing the information and resources that have helped me to recover my son Roo from an Autism Spectrum Disorder. What I have learned is to view our symptoms as the results of underlying biological cause, which can be identified and healed. I say "our symptoms" because I also have a neuro-immune disorder called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

And, of course, I am not a doctor (although I have been known to impersonate one while doing imaginative play with my son)- this is just our story and information that has been helpful or interesting to us. I hope it is helpful and interesting to you!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Somali Autism Mystery

People in the autism community have been aware for some time now that the prevalence of autism in the population of Somali immigrants in Minnesota is extremely high.  At first this was purely anecdotal, but as attention has been drawn to this situation and the numbers have been looked at the rate appears to be 1 in 28 children.  This translates to about 360 children per 10,000 which is about 5 times the national average, and at least twice as high as the average rate in Minnesota, a state with an already extremely high rate of autism (about 1 in 56).

In many contexts a discrepancy this large would be considered A CLUE...but in the political world of autism the response by authorities has been to try to dismiss or minimize the importance of this.  Why?   Of course there are many reasons for this- anything indicating that autism has a biological, environmental component is being treated similarly.  The details of this situation indicate that vaccination, vitamin D level, and mitochondrial function may be major factors at play.  This is also not just a single anomaly- similarly high rates have bee found in other East African immigrant communities in northern lands, including Sweden, Montreal, and Ireland.

 Why is is this so interesting and important?  For one thing, these families needs help and support.  This has significance on a larger scale though, as David Kirby put it so well in a piece he wrote on the subject:

 "If it can be demonstrated that US-born children of Somali refugees are more prone to autism than the other kids of Minneapolis - or Somalia - then it shouldn't take too long to discover what it is about them (their genes) that clashed so terribly with the way they were conceived and raised (their environment).
It won't explain every case of autism, of course, but it might open new doors of understanding and knowledge that can be applied to combating autism worldwide."

This is a quote from one of the fathers (from the above article), regarding whether autism exists in Somalia but just "wasn't noticed"-

"And these symptoms? I had never seen anything like it before. We have names for mental retardation or Down syndrome. But the mannerisms, the loss of speech, the tantrums and violence and running out of the house that comes with autism - I think we would have noticed those things. But we've never seen them before in Somalia or Kenya."

Here are several other interesting quotes from the article:

"Some doctors and researchers in Minneapolis that I spoke with were extraordinarily sympathetic toward the Somalis. "Vaccines have to be playing a role," said one very prominent pediatrician and researcher, who is working quietly behind the scenes to change attitudes at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere, and did not want to be named.  "Maybe if we start talking about the individual toxins in vaccines, and not the vaccine program as a whole, others in the medical profession will find it easier to come around," the doctor said."

This is another quote, quite long, which elaborates what is probably another major piece in this puzzle- vitamin D levels:

"Dr. Gregory A. Plotnikoff, medical director for the Institute for Health and Healing at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, said a colleague had noticed an "exceedingly high" rate of morning sickness among pregnant Somali women in Minneapolis, often requiring hospitalizations. 

The doctor began checking Vitamin D levels and found that, on average, they were far below what is considered to be normal and healthy.

Somalis, he said, may start out with naturally low abilities to produce vitamin D from sunlight, (as is the case with many people with Middle Eastern blood in them). That is compounded by the fact that dark-skinned people require far more sunlight to produce vitamin D than light-skinned people and, when Somalis move to areas of higher latitude, with far less sunlight - their vitamin D stores may be virtually depleted, at least for part of the year.

"Vitamin D is crucial for normal brain development, because there are receptors for it throughout the brain," Plotnikoff said. "Vitamin D also plays a role as an anti-inflammatory agent and, besides cutting down on inflammation, it increases concentrations of glutathione, which better supports the brain's capacity to handle heavy metals and oxidative stress."

As an aside, that is very interesting to me as I had severe morning sickness during both my pregnancy with Roo and with his older brother.  My vitamin D levels have been tested several times and are not only very low but are not rising much even with high oral supplementation.  I have also heard that severe morning sickness can be a sign of significant vitamin B6 deficiency, something which both kids and myself are deficient in, and respond well to supplementation of.   Another interesting connection for my family?  We have responded very well to mitochondrial support, and one of the doctors interviewed for the piece by David Kirby had this to say about vitamin D and mitochondrial functioning:

"Finally, vitamin D deficiency in pregnant animals can lead to "dramatic" defects in mitochondrial function in offspring, according to at least one study. The role of mitochondrial dysfunction and autistic regression is only now beginning to be explored. But some researchers believe that poor mitochondrial health (perhaps exacerbated by vitamin D deficiency?) is a precursor to autistic regression in at least one subgroup of children."