Study: NJ Has Highest Rate of Autism

By Christie Duffy

Of the 11 states studied by the Center for Disease Control, New Jersey was found to have the highest rate of autism.

One out of every 45 children in the Garden State has some form of autism. Dr. Walter Zahorodny analyzed the numbers for the CDC’s report.

“Not only do we have the highest prevalence of autism, but that the prevalence trend, as it’s been growing in the last decade, hasn’t peaked yet,” Zahorodny said.

Boys are five times more likely than girls to have autism in New Jersey. One in 28 boys here are autistic, compared to one in 133 girls. Over 3 percent of boys in New Jersey are autistic.

Although the state’s premiere resources do lead some families with autistic children to move to New Jersey, most autistic children living in the state were born here.

“And it’s actually increased. So whatever is at play is affecting the boys seems to be impacting them even more than it did a decade ago,” Zahorodny said.

Why? Researchers can’t say for sure.

“Men tend to have a higher rate of a lot of psychological behavioral and health disorders,” said Dr. Gerard Costa, director of the Center for Autism at Montclair State University.

Costa speculates male prevalence could have something to do with a baby’s development in the womb.

“The fetal brain is primarily a female brain. It becomes male brain at certain critical parts of development by the introduction of certain chemicals,” Costa said.

In 2013, after data for this latest study was compiled, the definition of autism changed. Aspergers and Rett are no longer on the autism spectrum. But Zahorodny says they’ll be able to parse their past data with future findings.

The state Department of Health commissioner says: “New Jersey has one of the best systems in the nation for identifying, diagnosing and documenting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, making us one of only four states with an Autism Registry. Approximately, 12,400 are registered.”

Elena Graziosi says when her daughter was diagnosed with autism she was able to get her evaluated right in her own community, and start her at school early, working with a well-trained teaching staff.

“Living in New Jersey has definitely been an advantage for us. Now she’s a fourth-grader, 9-year-old. She’s I would say, indistinguishable,” Graziosi, information coordinator for Autism New Jersey said.

Dr. Zaharodny will next be researching what causes autism. He’ll be looking in the womb and at early childhood development. He’ll also going to be questioning if air pollution in New Jersey could have anything to do with autism.