New Jersey’s autism rate at 1 in 32 — highest in the country
Nationwide, the rate of children identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder is one in 54, according to a new federal report.
In New Jersey, the rate is one in 32, still the highest rate in the country.
For the eighth consecutive year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found autism prevalence increased in the U.S., and the rates are at their highest nationally and in the Garden State, as of 2016. In a 2012 report, of children in 2008, New Jersey's rate was recorded at one in 49.
"Changes in awareness and shifts in how children are identified or diagnosed are relevant, but they only take you so far in accounting for an increase of this magnitude," said Walter Zahorodny, an associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and leader of the New Jersey Autism Study.
Since the inception of the CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, which tracks records of 8-year-old children in 11 states, New Jersey has been "the leading indicator of autism prevalence," Zahorodny said.
Some sites, including New Jersey, can review both health and educational records of children, which can lead to better identification of the developmental disorder.
Tracking in New Jersey included more than 33,000 children across Essex, Hudson, Ocean and Union counties.
"Only 81% of them had a diagnosis, but when the researchers looked at the children's records and all the detail provided, they met diagnostic criteria for autism," said Suzanne Buchanan, executive director of Autism New Jersey.
While all individuals with autism have social difficulties, Buchanan said, there's a huge variation in how autism manifests from individual to individual.
"It's called a spectrum, and some people have said it's not really a line, it's more overlapping circles, with different domains of abilities and challenges," she said.
According to the CDC data, boys in New Jersey are four times more likely than girls to be identified with ASD.
A number of environmental, biologic and genetic factors have the potential to make a child more likely to be identified with autism, the CDC notes. Children born to older parents, for example, are believed to be at greater risk — 23.2% of New Jersey's births in 2016 involved mothers who were at least 35 years old.
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