By Andrea Vasquez
At 3 years old, Shonda Greene’s daughter Brooklyn still was not speaking.
“I didn’t know what was wrong. So I kept trying to find out how to go about getting her tested for something, not knowing exactly what to get her tested for,” Greene said.
That was when Greene found out that Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside was screening children in under-served communities for autism spectrum disorder.
“When she got diagnosed it was more of a sigh of relief, because it was like, OK, we have a diagnosis, what do we do now?” Greene explained.
Brooklyn was among about 200 children in Cumberland County who were screened. About 10 were diagnosed with autism.
This morning, Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd and the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism awarded millions of dollars of grant money to continue programs, like the Children’s Specialized Hospital screening that Brooklyn received.
“We are here to announce seven new grants totaling $4.5 million to various organizations around New Jersey,” O’Dowd said.
Grants will go to research centers such as Children’s Specialized Hospital, UMDNJ, Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Rutgers and Rowan universities. The money will fund development of screening tools, research of biological indicators of autism and the evaluation of environmental risk factors.
“Each year we plan to move forward and add the number of researchers, the number of organizations and the different type of research that’s being done,” O’Dowd said.
“What we will create in New Jersey will be significant for the national picture about how state research partners need to work together,” said Gerard Costa, director of the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health.
In New Jersey, about one in 50 children is diagnosed with autism. Health care professionals attribute that largely to improved screening methods, which are being further developed by grant money such as this.
“If it wasn’t for this program, my child probably still would not even have a diagnosis. I probably would still be frustrated and trying to figure out, OK, what type of testing or what do I need to get done for my daughter?” Greene explained.
Not only is Brooklyn now speaking, but she’ll start first grade in the fall.