New Jersey has had the nation’s highest rate of autism. But a new study from the CDC shows that the rate of new cases has grown significantly in recent years.

The seven-state study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the rate of autism diagnosis among 4-year-old children increased by 43 percent between 2010 and 2014.

This follows a study released last year that found a rise in diagnosis among 8-year-olds.

Walter Zahorodny, a Rutgers New Jersey Medical School pediatrics professor who directed the New Jersey portion of the study, said the findings were “startling.”

“It’s very likely that the next time we survey autism among children, the rate will be even higher,” he said.

Better recognition of the condition may be leading to higher rates of diagnosis.

It is not clear what causes autism, although high-risk factors may include parents over age 30 having children, maternal illness during pregnancy and genetic mutations, he said.

Autism spectrum disorder causes an array of social, communication and behavioral disabilities.

New Jersey 101.5 will hold a special autism town hall event on April 25 that will take a look at the resources that are available for families and what parents can expect when their children with autism reach adulthood.

The national autism rate is at 1.7% while New Jersey’s is at 3%.

The latest study finds that among 4-year-olds in New Jersey, 1 in 35 had autism. Nationally, the rate was 1 in 59. Among 8-year-olds, the New Jersey rate was 1 in 34.

Doctors believe that the earlier a child is diagnosed, the better the child responds to treatment. The ideal age to be diagnosed is 2 but the average age of diagnosis is after a child turns 4.

Zahorodny said more research is needed into “into non-genetic triggers for autism” such as environmental risks or other factors that could affect an unborn child or cause birth complications.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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