Rutgers researchers determined New Jersey’s autism prevalence rate for 4-year-olds is one in 35 in a new CDC report. A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which uses research by Rutgers University, shows a significant increase in the percentage of 4-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder in New Jersey.
The study found the rate increased 43 percent from 2010 to 2014 in the state. New Jersey’s rate was the highest of the states studied: one in 35. That puts the national rate (1 in 53) of autism at 1.7 percent of the childhood population and New Jersey’s autism rate at 3 percent.
Walter Zahorodny, an associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School who directed the New Jersey portion of the study, called the results “consistent, broad and startling.” The analysis of this young group of children shows U.S. autism rates are continuing to rise without plateauing.
“It’s very likely that the next time we survey autism among children, the rate will be even higher,” he said.
Across the network, the researchers found the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders ranged from a low of 8 per 1,000 children in Missouri to a high of 28 per 1,000 children in New Jersey. The average was 13 per 1,000 children. The disorder is about two times more common among boys than girls and white children are more often diagnosed than black or Hispanic children.
Although the estimates are not representative of the country as a whole, they are considered the benchmarks of autism spectrum disorder prevalence, Zahorodny said.
“Children who are evaluated for autism early – around their second birthday – often respond better to treatment than those who are diagnosed later,” Zahorodny said. “However, it appears that only the most seriously affected children are being evaluated at the crucial time, which can delay access to treatment and special services.”
The average age of diagnosis – 53 months – has not changed in 15 years.
“Despite our greater awareness, we are not effective yet in early detection,” he said. “Our goal should be systematic, universal screening that pediatricians and other health providers provide at regular visits starting at 18 months to identify autism as soon as possible.”
The researchers can’t explain why autism rates have increased across the United States. Factors associated with a higher risk include advanced parental age (children of parents over age 30 have heightened risk), maternal illness during pregnancy, genetic mutations, birth before 37 weeks gestation and multiple births.
This article is excerpted from a Rutgers press release by Patti Verbanas (April 11, 2019).