TRENTON–April is National Autism Awareness Month and Health and Senior Services Acting Commissioner Mary O’Dowd is urging parents with children under two to speak to their health care provider about autism and be aware of early warning signs and symptoms of the spectrum of autism disorder. She is also asking parents of children diagnosed with autism to take advantage of New Jersey programs designed specifically to help families impacted by the condition.
“Autism Spectrum Disorder, (ASD) has a profound effect on the lives of those with the disorder and their families,” said O’Dowd. “However, the earlier a child is diagnosed with ASD and gets the appropriate services, the better the opportunity they have to lead normal lives.”
The NJ Early Intervention System (NJEIS) provides services to children from birth to age 3 with developmental delays and disabilities. In 2010, more than 14,000 New Jersey children participated in the NJEIS program. Approximately 800 of those children were suspected or known to have ASD. Early warning signs that a child between 12 and 24 months of age may have ASD include: A delay in spoken language, repetitive use of language, little or no eye contact, lack of interest in peer relationships, lack of spontaneous or make-believe play and a loss of previously acquired skills.
The Department’s budget proposes a $13.8 million increase in funding for Early Intervention.
During the month of April, New Jersey’s First Lady Mary Pat Christie will be highlighting the innovative work being done by organizations throughout the Garden State to serve people with autism spectrum disorder. Autism awareness is a new advocacy area being embraced by Mrs. Christie to bring greater understanding of the developmental disability.
Autism is a biologically-based disorder that affects the development and functioning of a person’s verbal and non-verbal communication skills, social interactions and patterns of behavior. Researchers believe that several genes, possibly combined with environmental influences, may be responsible for the condition.
New Jersey has one of the highest ASD prevalence rates in the nation, 1 in 94, and the state has dedicated substantial funds for ASD research. In 2010, The Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism (Council) awarded 11 basic science research grants totaling $5 million. The grants were provided to New Jersey based research groups to study the cause, triggers and treatment of ASD.
In 2008, the Council awarded $8.55 million in Clinical Enhancement Center grants that enabled six clinical autism centers across New Jersey to enhance clinical staffing, improve early detection of ASD and increase evaluations they provide to children suspected of being on the autism spectrum. The centers funded through the grant initiative include:
- The Center for Neurological and Neurodevelopmental Health (CNNH II) in Voorhees
- Children’s Specialized Hospital in Toms River
- Hackensack University Medical Center, The Institute for Child Development in Hackensack
- Hunterdon Medical Center, The Child Development Center in Flemington
- Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune
- UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, The Autism Center in Newark
Nationally 1 in 110 children in the United States have an ASD, and more than 1.5 million Americans are living with the effects of ASD. While ASD is reported in all racial and socioeconomic groups boys are 4 to 5 times more likely to have ASD. Assuming 4 million child births in the United States each year, approximately 36,500 children will eventually be diagnosed with ASD. It is estimated that 730,000 individuals between the ages of 0-21 have an ASD. According to the Autism Society, the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism ranges from $3.5 million to $5 million and that the United States faces almost $90 billion annually in costs from autism.
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