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Abdull, who serves on a federal autism advisory panel, said it is easy to spot the nonverbal Somali children who are at risk for autism. But for years, Somali families have felt ashamed by a disorder that is poorly understood. The Somali language doesn’t even have a word for autism, or really describe the nuances of mental disorders.
As one anonymous parent said in the U study, “In our culture, you are either sane or you are crazy; there is no gray area. So there is a fear that someone will call your child a name behind your back.”
Abdull speaks openly about her son’s autism and about the educational software on an iPad that helps him learn and cope with the nonverbal nature of his disorder. She said she hopes that the U study will validate the problem for others and make them feel more comfortable about seeking screening and treatment services for their children.
“With our kind of autism, you can’t miss it with a 10-foot pole. Anyone can diagnosis it” in Somali children, she said. “A lot of these kids are smart. We just have to figure out a way to communicate with them and teach them by other means.”
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744