A study by Rutgers University has found that the rate of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) four-year-old children in New Jersey rose by 43 percent from 2010 to 2014, to an estimated rate of 1 in 35 children—the highest of any state in the United States. According to the research, which was published earlier this year in a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of ASD in New Jersey was 19.7 per 1,000 children in 2010, compared to 28.4 per 1,000 in 2014.1 2
“We don’t understand the reason for it,” said Walter Zahorodny, PhD, principal investigator of the Rutgers study. Dr. Zahorodny noted that during the 14 years, the autism rate among children in New Jersey has “never stabilized or decreased.”3
New Jersey’s ASD rate stands in sharp contrast with that of Missouri, which the Rutgers study determined to have the lowest rate in the U.S.—1 in 104 four-year-old children. The prevalence rates of ASD in Missouri went from 8.5 per 1,000 children in 2010 to 9.6 per 1,000 in 2014.1 2
The Rutgers study pegged the ASD rate in the U.S. at 1 in 59 children, based on data from 2014. More recent data from 2016 by the National Health Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) calculates the rate of autism for children in the U.S. aged 3-17 years at 1 in 36.1 2 4
The researchers involved in the Rutgers study were at a loss to explain why the numbers of children developing autism in New Jersey and other states has continued to increase. Some factors that may be associated with the higher risk of ASD include more mothers giving birth after age 30, maternal illness, genetic mutations, birth prior to 37 weeks gestation and multiple births.1 2
“These are true influences exerting an effect, but they are not enough to explain the high rate of autism prevalence,”1 said Dr. Zahorodny, who added:
There are still undefined environmental risks that contribute to this significant increase, factors that could affect a child in its development in utero or related to birth complications or to the newborn period. We need more research into non-genetic triggers for autism.1
The rise in childhood autism in New Jersey is not expected to level off anytime soon. “It’s very likely that the next time we survey autism among children, the rate will be even higher,” Dr. Zohorodny said.1
“This is a wake-up call for all of us,” said Tom Baffuto, who is executive director of The Arc of New Jersey, which works on behalf of “individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”3 5
“Children with autism become adults with autism, and as advocates, we must collaborate with lawmakers to ensure supports are in place to assist with the unique challenges they face throughout their lifetime.” Baffuto said.3
2 Christensen DL et. al. Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 4 Years — Early Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, Seven Sites, United States, 2010, 2012, and 2014. CDC.gov Apr. 12, 2019; 68(2): 1–19
3 Staff Writer. Autism rates in NJ are the highest in the US, have tripled recently. NewJersey.com Apr. 26, 2019.
4 Cáceres M. Autism Affecting Up to 1 in 36 Children in America. The Vaccine Reaction July 3, 2019.
5 Mission and Core Values. The Arc of New Jersey.