An “Outbreak” of Autism?

The New York Times reported yesterday on an ongoing epidemiological survey into a clustering of autism cases among Somali families in Minnesota.  Given such a clustering there are a number of possibilities that might be true, among them:

  1. It is a statistical fluke.
  2. It is the result of misplaced pattern recognition, similar to seeing faces in clouds or patterns in the bombs dropped on London in WWII.
  3. There really is a significant statistical difference among Minnesotan Somali families.

Of course figuring out which of these is really the case will certainly not be easy for the investigators.  As the article points out, the process of diagnosing autism is less that ideal and since there is no known cause the investigation cannot be as targeted as anyone might hope.  Additional complexities, like the involvement of anti-vaccine advocates and the possibilities of racially biased diagnoses further muddy the waters.

If you would like to read the article, you can find it here.

If you are interested in reading more about what is being seen by some as an “autism epidemic” then you might also want to look here.

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