UMDNJ Researcher Attributes Higher Numbers to Better Detection Methods
Newswise — NEWARK, N.J. – New statistics issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders found among 8-year-old children in a sample area of New Jersey is significantly higher than in most other states surveyed. However, Walter Zahorodny, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, who led the New Jersey component of the research, says he believes the numbers in New Jersey are higher than elsewhere because schools and health providers in the state are better equipped to detect cases of autism than elsewhere in the country – and that the numbers show no evidence that New Jersey children are at higher risk for autism.
The CDC surveyed populations in 14 different states, and, using statistics compiled in 2008 and published in the March 30 edition of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, finds an overall estimated prevalence in those locations of 11.3 per 1,000 (one child in 88). The prevalence found in New Jersey is 20.5 per 1,000 (one child in 49). Union County was the location chosen for the New Jersey survey, which looked at the records of 7,082 children, of whom 145 were found to have autism spectrum disorders. Autism spectrum disorders were found to be 5.8 times more prevalent among boys than among girls.
According to Zahorodny, Union County is a good barometer for prevalence in wider areas of the state. “Over the years, we have done detailed analyses of autism prevalence in four counties, Essex, Hudson, Ocean and Union, and regularly found those counties’ numbers to be consistent with one another,” Zahorodny says. “That means there is strong reason to believe the numbers from Union are representative of the state at large.”
Zahorodny also emphasizes that the numbers speak well of health care and education systems in New Jersey. “These prevalence numbers are not higher here because there are more autistic children. There is not a shred of credible evidence that living in New Jersey puts children at higher risk,” Zahorodny says. “The numbers are higher because health professionals and educators who work with New Jersey children are more attuned than elsewhere to the signs of autism. Many children with autism spectrum disorders are identified while they are still in preschool. In fact, the median age where autism is detected here is three years and two months, lower than in all but one of the states surveyed. This sensitivity to the disorder and to the needs of children it affects makes New Jersey a state where these children can be, and usually are, well cared for.”
The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is New Jersey’s only health sciences university with more than 6,000 students on five campuses attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and New Jersey’s only school of public health. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, which provides a continuum of healthcare services with multiple locations throughout the state.