Measles, Minneapolis and Somali Kids

By Abdulkadir Khalif

I am writing a response and a rebuttal to Maura Lerner’s story of 03/17/2011, (HERE) concerning Measles and unvaccinated Somali Kids in Minneapolis. This story, like so many others before it on this newspaper and others across the country, highlights the issue of autism and Somali kids. There is an increasing sense of desperation in medical circles and the media concerning the causes of autism and how to delink it to vaccinations. It is the wish of every parent in this country and around the world that causes and cures of autism are found quickly, and hopefully without forgoing the benefits of vaccines. I am a Somali parent, resident in Minneapolis and a father of a 6-year old boy who is severely affected by autism. He is still non-verbal and horribly dysfunctional.

As a parent, I am desperately looking for answers from my son’s doctors. I am looking for a cure for my son’s conditions, or at least a treatment regime that would make him function as a human being and hopefully live an independent life once we are gone. I am not finding hope anywhere and obviously no answers for my many questions. Our doctors and scientists agree on a few things:

  • That they have no idea what causes autism.
  • That there is no known cure for autism.
  • That autism is a life-long condition for which there is no hope.
  • That behavioural therapy if administered early, consistently and over a long period of time may give some good results.
  • That vaccine and especially the suspect MMR is perfectly safe for all kids irrespective of their genes, diets, background and lifestyles.
  • That the rate of autism is increasing every year all over the world.
  • That autism has always been around and better diagnoses is giving it the attention it is getting now.
  • That some research has shown that some communities are more vulnerable than others.
  • That more research is needed to disprove earlier research.
  • That there is no money for autism causation research.
  • That they are still too ignorant about what autism is, and that instead of admitting that they would rather just deny its prevalence, rise etc.

To me that sounds like a bunch of contradictions. It is sad that we have to trust our lives and that of our kids to a few technocrats and uncertain scientists who are voting with their pockets instead of their guts.

I have a gut feeling (trust your gut feelings always) that my son was affected by what got into his body around the time he was 18 months. My son grew up a normal, healthy and bouncing baby. He started speaking a few words by the time he was about 15 months. He waited for me at the door everyday as I got back home from work and welcomed me inside. He knew how I opened the door and the approximate time I came home each day. He raced down the stairs and hugged me, then held my hand and led me inside. I looked forward to those moments and they were perfect moments as they relieved me of the day’s tensions and small workplace frustrations. Then one day, I came home and he did not welcome me as was his wont.

A few days earlier, Abdimalik got his 18 months MMR vaccine as scheduled. I still remember that day. His mother was coming back from his appointment and passed my place of work to give me a ride home. Abdimalik was sitting in his car-seat, very quite, subdued and absent minded. As I took my seat I glanced back wondering if he was asleep or not. He was seated squarely in his seat but was looking straight ahead at a point in space. I called out to him and he did not respond. I shook him and he did not move. I looked at my wife and asked what happened and she explained where they came from and that everything went well. She explained how he thanked the nurse as she put a sticker on his chest before the injection in order to build rapport. After that we rode home in silence and life was never the same again.

On all subsequent days after that, Abdimalik went from one extreme behavioural problem to another. Fortunately he did not have seizures or vomiting like many other kids we came to know. But he manifested all other behaviours like tantrums, biting, sleeplessness etc. We spent the entire next winter virtually awake at nights, relieving each other and trying everything possible to calm him down and put him to sleep. It was not until we withdrew dairy from his diet that he started sleeping. This simple advice came to us from another parent of an autistic child, and not from our medical caregivers. The doctors we visited knew exactly what the problem was but dare not tell us. One of them finally referred us to the school district, and there we heard the word “autism” for the first time.

In the Star Tribune story I referred to above, the reporter desperately sought out a “Somali Doctor” who confirmed to him that four (4) unvaccinated Somali kids died of measles in the US and in other countries. This statement surprised me for the following reasons:

  • Why is it only this “Somali Doctor” who has statistics on the death of Somali kids all over the world?
  • How does he know about the status of Somali kids all over the world?
  • When he alludes to the fact that vaccines are perfectly safe, how does he explain the high rate of autism amongst the Somali kids of Minnesota? Does he even acknowledge the prevalence of autism amongst the Somalis of Minnesota?
  • Why is his testimony so important when he is just like any other Minnesota doctor on the pay books of the government which denies (and does not know) the causes and cures of autism? Is he not under the influence of the pharmaceutical companies just like all other doctors? I wonder what he will say if (God forbid) a relative of his is diagnosed with autism. I know a few “Somali Doctors” who have kids on the spectrum, approach us for help with diet and other therapies, and then go to their clinics to tell other families that vaccines are perfectly safe, when they themselves do not vaccinate their own kids anymore. What a shame and hypocrisy?
  • In his practice, how many unvaccinated Somali kids did he see who were also on the autism spectrum? That would be an interesting question to ask him.
  • What, according to the “Somali Doctor” is the Somali word for autism?
  • Any how, what do we expect would be the “Somali Doctor’s” response to a question from the Star Tribune? He has a job to protect, insurance money to collect, big money to make and a career to build, just like many other doctors in America and indeed the whole world.

The vaccine scare in Minnesota or the USA did not start with a few Somali families refusing to vaccine their kids. In fact, Somali families got the word from mainstream Americans, some of who have successfully treated their kids. When I say that my son started sleeping and feeding after a Caucasian American mother advised us to remove dairy from his diet, I was not kidding. After we registered success with this step, we told our doctor and we were ignored and a direct answer was not forth-coming. How can I trust him again when he shows such a callous disregard?

The Star Tribune, The New York Times, CNN, FOX News etc. will not stop writing or talking about autism and the Somalis of Minnesota for the foreseeable future, and we shall not give them that vacation until autism is no more amongst our children, or until the establishment acknowledges prevalence and starts looking for causation. We are even ready to forgive those who damaged our kids if they promise not to damage anymore kids. We can even sign such pledges just in case they are afraid of lawsuits and condemnations. The autism scourge is not only about Somalis or Americans or Chileans. This is an international problem and trying to localize it to Minnesota is insulting and a vain attempt to drive a wedge between us and mainstream Americans. It is a vain and naïve way of attributing color and race to an international pandemic. But whatever the motive of the powers that be, the autism community will remain steadfast and united against a superior force of big business and coward science.

In conclusion, I wish to speak from my heart about a very emotional thing. I am a father of many kids, and all except Abdimalik were born outside this country. We have made America our home and enjoy the full benefits of any American citizenship. My first born son is now serving in Afghanistan, and his sister married an American. We are thus as American as any other American family, and I am not apologetic about speaking my mind or demanding for my rights. I feel for other American families in the same way, regardless of whether they are Caucasian, African-American, Asian or Native American. There is more that unites us than divides us, and autism should be viewed as a threat to our National Security. I say so because at the rate it is increasing, it is a fundamental threat to our very existence as a Nation and a negative influence on our role in the world. So, hiding from the truth and continuing to ignore a fast approaching disaster is a manifestation of a very unpatriotic disposition towards our country – and all this just to protect a few individuals whose aim in life is to line their pockets.

I insist that we face the facts and turn our attention to finding the causes of autism. Prevalence in certain communities, and clusters in certain locations have already been confirmed. No more money should be thrown in the direction of confirming prevalence. We need more money to be thrown into causation research. We, the Somali parents of Minnesota have taken upon ourselves to invite caring scientists to help us unravel the mysteries of autism. The CDC woke up from the deep slumber afterwards and is now scrambling to scuttle that process by initiating yet another research to confirm prevalence. Their aim is to put a stop to this perennial Somali story by “scientifically” disproving prevalence. But I tell you sir, that whether one child or 10 children die of measles or whether dozens more contract the disease and recover, I would rather have my child suffer for a few days and then recover than to have him mentally damaged for life and be a burden on society. I would rather have one child die in infancy and join the rest in the calculation of mortality rates than to have thousands disabled and dehumanized for life. This may sound cruel, but it is not crueler than sending our young men and women to war in far away countries, knowing very well that some of them will come back in body bags. I will never accept the notion that a doctor who does not know what causes autism can still tell me what does not cause it.

Abdulkadir Khalif is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.