U.S. autism prevalence has grown, according to a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, with about 1.7 percent of 8-year-olds affected in 11 states.
The study, based on 2014 research, again identifies New Jersey with the highest incidence. One in 34 children in that state, or 3 percent, fall on what’s called the autism spectrum, which encompasses a range of social, behavioral and learning disorders ranging from the barely noticeable to the profoundly debilitating.
Nationally, the prevalence has increased 150 percent since 2000, according to the study, which called autism “an urgent public-health concern.”
“The new numbers we’re discussing today are extraordinary,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and sponsor of legislation signed by President Barack Obama to spend $1.3 billion on autism research and education through 2019.
Researchers aren’t sure what causes autism, although they suspect environmental risks or triggers. It has no cure. They caution that more children being diagnosed doesn’t necessarily mean that autism is becoming more common.
New Jersey — a wealthy, educated state with ready access to world-class health care in Philadelphia and New York City — has “better access to higher-quality information that lets us be more complete” in screening, Walter Zahorodny, a New Jersey Medical School professor and director of the New Jersey Autism Study, said in a conference call about the findings.
“Other states are likely underestimating autism,” he said. Research from 2012 put the rate at 1.5 percent among the 11 states. The New Jersey percentage at that time was 1.9 percent.
The data, from the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, were culled from tracking 8-year-olds in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.