11 Aug Report: New Jersey’s autism rate is the highest in the U.S.
Originally Posted in NorthJersey.com: News
New Jersey now has the highest reported rates of autism in the country — 1 in 45 children here are diagnosed with the developmental disability, though experts say they do not know if that is due to better screening or an uptick in cases.
Nationally, autism rates have jumped 30 percent since 2012, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. One in every 68 children — nearly 1.2 million children under 21 years old — are estimated to have the disorder.
“The increase could be a growing number of children with autism or better screening or a combination of both,” said Dr. Coleen Boyle, the CDC’s director of the national center of birth defects and developmental disabilities.
Boys are diagnosed in higher numbers — 1 in 28 boys in New Jersey and 1 in 42 nationally are on the autism spectrum, the report showed.
“The rate among boys in New Jersey is over 3 percent,” said Walter Zahorodny, the director of the New Jersey autism study at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “A population with 3 percent of the boys having this is frightening. Some children do improve, but many, many don’t have a typical life.”
Researchers looked at health records, and in most cases, school records of 8-yearolds in 11 states, including four counties in New Jersey. The other states were Alabama, Wisconsin, Colorado, Missouri, Georgia, Arkansas, Arizona, Maryland, North Carolina and Utah. The records of 8-year-olds were chosen because by that age most children are diagnosed.
The last CDC study in 2012 showed Utah was the state with the highest autism rate. At that time, New Jersey’s rate was 1 in 49.
Experts agree that New Jersey has one of the best systems for screening and diagnosing children with autism, which may have helped catapult it to the state with the highest rate.
“New Jersey is one of only four states with an autism registry that requires reporting by neurologists, pediatricians, nurses and other autism providers,” said Mary E. O’Dowd, state health commissioner. “Approximately 12,400 [children] are registered, and that has heightened awareness among parents and providers of indicators for autism spectrum disorders.”
But others are convinced the actual number of children with the disorder is also climbing.
“When I talk to my colleagues about practicing 20 years ago, everyone says there weren’t nearly as many children with autism back then,” said Dr. Paul Wang, a pediatrician and head of medical research at Autism Speaks. “There is a real increase.”
Zahorodny agreed, noting the gap between New Jersey and other states.
“If the higher documented prevalence were only due to better detection, sooner or later the numbers would plateau and other states would catch up,” he said.
A common misconception concerning New Jersey autism rates is that many parents with children on the spectrum move here because of the special education programs. But the report debunks this: New Jersey has the second-highest percentage of children with autism who were born in the state.
Autism is a brain disorder that varies in degree but affects verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction and may trigger repetitive behaviors. It can cause intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. But some people with the disorder may excel in math, music or art. Over the last decade, autism rates have risen 110 percent. In 2000, 1 in 150 children were on the autism spectrum. In 2006, the figure was one in 110 and in 2008, it was 1 in 88, the CDC said.
Though girls are less likely to develop autism, 1 in 189 girls are estimated to have it. In New Jersey, the rate is 1 in 133.
Whites are more likely to be diagnosed than blacks or Hispanics — 1 in 18, 1 in 48, and 1 in 53 children, respectively, nationwide. In New Jersey, the prevalence in whites is 1 in 23, and 1 in 43 among African-Americans and 1 in 35 among Hispanics.
The study also showed that nearly half of the children on the autism spectrum have average or above-average intellectual ability — an IQ above 85 — compared to onethird of the children in 2000. The cause of autism is still unknown. It often strikes more than one child in a family but sometimes only affects one twin.
“That’s the million-dollar question — identifying the causes of autism,” said Dr. Marisela Huerta, a clinical psychologist at the New York-Presbyterian Center for Autism and the Developing Brain. “We need to find the mechanisms by which autism develops.”
Currently, scientists are looking at a combination of triggers: a genetic predisposition — several gene mutations associated with the condition have been found — plus environmental stresses. Some environmental factors being investigated include maternal illnesses during pregnancy, the age of both parents at conception, difficulties during or after birth, air pollution and toxic substances.
“The numbers are not the story. The story is the implication autism has on our families,” said Suzanne Buchanan, executive director of Autism New Jersey. “If there is any good news, it’s that New Jersey does a good job of identifying children with autism and linking them to services. Remember, this report marks a decade of data, and those 8-year-olds first identified are now 22 years old and have transitioned into adulthood.”
The CDC report triggered talk Thursday of services needed for people on the autism spectrum who have aged out of the school system.
“It doesn’t matter why the numbers show an increase,” said Jill Nadison, executive director of the Reed Academy in Oakland, a school for children with autism. “Autism affects the individual his entire life, 24/7, 365 days a year. As a result, every point of their life span they need services and assistance. “
Experts estimate that the cost for caring for people with autism is $126 billion in the United States.
“These new autism figures should be both a cause for alarm and a call for action,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. “That’s why we must redouble our efforts and secure the funding needed to not only ensure critical autism programs aren’t shuttered but to find new diagnostic tools, early intervention techniques, therapies and lifelong support and services.”