December 5, 2021

Autism rates in NJ are higher than in other states, Rutgers study finds

A new study finds that up to 8% of children in parts of New Jersey are on the autism spectrum, which is more than triple the national average.

Researchers analyzed data from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, a group of programs funded by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to estimate the number of children with autism, examining 5,453 children in public school districts. of Essex, Hudson and Union counties. who was 8 years old in 2016.

Walter Zahorodny, associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and co-author of the study, said the prevalence of autism is quite variable in the Garden State, but more frequent than expected.

“We found that one in five school districts in our surveillance region had an autism prevalence of 5% or more,” Zahorodny said.

The study found that the prevalence of autism spectrum was around 5% in Newark, the state’s largest school district, while Toms River, the state’s largest suburban school district, had a rate prevalence rate of 7.3%, and the rate was 12% in boys.

Reasons for high rates of autism

The national average for children on the autism spectrum is 2%, so why is it so much higher in New Jersey?

Zahorodny said the state has higher rates of children on the autism spectrum not because of an environmental problem or factor, but rather because the state is doing a better job of identifying the disease, given the high levels of healthcare professionals who are familiar with autism and school districts who are familiar with educating children with autism.

Suzanne Buchanan, executive director of Autism New Jersey, said the reality is that the rate of autism in New Jersey has stabilized over time.

“The number of children with autism and developmental disabilities has remained fairly stable over time, which means we do a much better job of identifying children with autism. “

Buchanan said children with autism may not have a developmental disability, but may have a hard time “making friends, keeping friends, being really part of that peer group and feeling a sense of belonging. ‘membership”.

Get a diagnosis of autism

Buchanan said if a family is diagnosed with autism, there are some things to consider, such as doing a thorough assessment of the child’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Families also need to think about a child’s education and health care needs.

Whatever the evaluation reveals, Buchanan said that “help is available,” adding that “there is an incredible level of knowledge and awareness here in New Jersey which I think translates very well to identify the children “.

Zahorodny said the big unanswered question is “why is this (rate of autism) increasing everywhere”.

He noted that higher rates of autism are associated with premature births, a low birth rate, older parents, and a cesarean delivery, “but overall these factors don’t seem to match. to the magnitude of the increase we are seeing “.

To learn more about New Jersey’s resources for autism, visit the Autism New Jersey webpage.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at [email protected]

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