TRENTON – U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, (R-4), says new national figures that detail the rising prevalence of autism disorders should put adults on high alert.
The congressman spoke to State Street Wire on the heels of a new Centers for Disease Control study released Thursday that found cases of autism are on the rise in the United States. According to the study, about 1 in 88 children nationally showed signs of autism disorders – up from previous estimates of 1 in 110.
The study examined children in 14 states, including New Jersey, and researchers say 1 in 49 children in the Garden State showed signs of autism disorders.
“This is right up there with HIV/AIDS in terms of prevalence,” Smith said. “We just need to do more.”
The report attributed some of the increase in improvements on how children with autism are identified and diagnosed. However, the numbers account for a 23 percent increase in autism rates compared to the CDC’s last report in 2009 and a 78 percent increase from the agency’s first report in 2007.
Parents, teachers and pediatricians “need to have a heightened alert” about the new estimates to ensure early diagnosis and interventional care, Smith said.
Smith, the founding co-chairman of the autism caucus, sponsored several bills that paved the way for additional CDC research.
The agency did not indicate how big a variable improved screening and better diagnosis played in accounting for the increase, but Smith says there is little double that the overall number of children with autism is on the rise.
“That can account for a small percentage,” he said. “It does not account for this huge spike.”
Smith said when he first took office in the 1980s officials estimated 3 out of every 10,000 suffered from autism disorders.
“This is why we fund laws that provide for surveillance and then also research,” he said.
Smith’s legislation, enacted in 2000, the Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research and Epidemiology Act, created the first comprehensive federal program to combat autism, he said. More recently, his Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 provided $693 million to fund the program over the next three years.
The CDC study also found that autism disorders were almost five times more common in boys, including “a staggering” 1 in 29 boys in New Jersey, Smith said.