Based on findings by an autism spectrum disorders (ASD) monitoring system at Rutgers University known as the New Jersey Autism Study (NJAS), the autism rate for four-year-old children in New Jersey is estimated at 1 in 35 children—the highest of any state in the United States. This figure, however, is at least eight years old. It is based on a 2019 report by Rutgers that found the ASD rate in New Jersey had increased 43 percent from 2010 to 2014. The rate is likely higher now.1 2 3
A news report by the Asbury Park Press last summer noted that New Jersey’s autism rate was “still climbing.” The article referenced that, for the first time, data from the NJAS had been used to “compare a cross-section of [school] districts in the state” in order to help the government of New Jersey plan for the future needs of districts with “higher-than-expected rates of students with autism.”4 According to the article:
New Jersey’s ever-increasing number of children with autism has significant implications for the educational resources that will be needed in the future, since such students require smaller class sizes, intensive instruction, specially trained teachers and paraprofessional aides. And as adults, eventually they may need housing, job accommodations or financial support.4
New Jersey County Autism Rate Triple National Average
NJAS data from 74 school districts that were studied determined that the autism rate among eight-year-old children had continued to steadily increase. Of the 74 districts, the largest suburban school district—Toms River Regional Schools in Ocean County—had an autism rate estimated at 1 in 14 children, or more than twice the state average and triple the 1 in 44 rate for the country.4 5 6
The director the NJAS, Walter Zahorodny, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said, “It feels like some kind of science fiction, but in reality, this is true. And it can’t be explained.”4 7
“We’re well aware of it because we live it every day,” said Joy Forrest, director of special education for Toms River. “The district is constantly planning to meet individual students’ needs. We have programs from preschool to age 21, and each year, we are adding additional programming because of increasing numbers of students.”4
Dr. Zahorodny reportedly believes that the autism rate at Toms River is likely a “harbinger” of the rate that all school districts in New Jersey will soon face. “It’s very likely we will find even greater numbers of children with autism in what we consider underserved communities,” he said.4
In the 1970’s, the prevalence of autism in the U.S. was estimated to be between 1 in 5,000 and 1 in 2,500 children, and by 2002, it had increased to 1 in 165 children.8 In 2011, autism prevalence was 1 in 110 children9 and by 2020, it was 1 in 54 among 8 year old children based on 2016 data.10
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1 Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. New Jersey Autism Study.
2 Rutgers University. Autism rate rises 43 percent in New Jersey, study finds. Science Daily Apr. 11, 2019.
3 TVR Staff. Autism Rate in New Jersey Up 43 Percent. The Vaccine Reaction Dec. 23, 2019.
4 Washburn L. NJ’s autism rate is still climbing. In one district, one in 14 third graders is affected. Asbury Park Press June 21, 2021.
5 Hobley N. U.S. Autism Rate Rises to One in 44 Children. The Vaccine Reaction Dec. 19, 2021.
6 Wall K. Toms River’s Autism Rate In Children Highest In NJ: Rutgers Study. Patch Oct. 26, 2021.
7 Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. Walter M. Zahorodny, Ph.D.
8 Institute of Medicine. Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Estimates of Autism Prevalence and Prevalence Trends from the General Population. Mental Disorders and Disabilities Among Low Income Children (Chapter 14). National Academies Press 2015.
9 Rice CE. The Changing Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Am Fam Physician 2011; 83(5): 515-520.
10 Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. US Autism Rates Up 10 Percent in New CDC Report. Mar. 26, 2020.