Federal health officials are joining forces with a national autism group to study concerns that there is an unusually high rate of childhood autism in Minnesota's Somali community.

Autism Speaks, which calls itself the world's largest autism science and advocacy group, announced Tuesday that it will help fund a study with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

"There have been concerns about higher prevalence of [autism spectrum disorder] in Minneapolis' Somali population," said Geraldine Dawson, the chief science officer of Autism Speaks. "We believe it is important to verify if a true increase in prevalence exists, and if so, why it exists."

The study is expected to cost $400,000.

The question first cropped up a few years ago among Somali schoolchildren in Minneapolis. In 2009, the Minnesota Department of Health investigated concerns about their autism rates. The study found "a significantly higher" proportion of Somali children in the schools' autism classes, but officials said they could not determine if rate of autism was actually higher.

Idil Abdull of Burnsville, who is co-founder of the Somali American Autism Foundation, said she hopes the new study will help get to the bottom of the issue.

"Let's let the numbers do the talking," she said. "If we're the same as everybody else, they can rest. But I just feel like ... there is something wrong in our community."