Menendez, Rutgers Researcher Detail NJ Findings in Latest CDC Nationwide Autism Study

Menendez, Rutgers Researcher Detail NJ Findings in Latest CDC Nationwide Autism Study

National autism rates on the rise; NJ continues to rank #1 1 in 34 NJ children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, up 19% since 2016 Menendez is leading advocate in Congress for individuals with autism & their families


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the leading advocate in Congress for individuals with autism and their families, today joined Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s lead researcher to discuss the results of the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, completed in partnership with Rutgers, on the prevalence of autism in American children.  The study found New Jersey’s autism rate is on the rise, with one in every 34 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and remains the highest in the nation.

“These numbers are pretty striking.  You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in New Jersey who doesn’t know a child, a loved one, a neighbor or classmate personally touched by autism.  These increasing rates only mean we need to redouble our efforts, keep up the pressure, and continue expanding research, screening, and support resources for Americans with autism spectrum disorder,” said Sen. Menendez.  “I truly believe that our nation is stronger when we ensure that all our children – no matter what zip code they’re born in, how much money their families make, or what kind of developmental disorders they face – have the opportunity to reach their God-given potential.”


According to the CDC study, the national autism rate is now one in 59 children, up 15% since the last report was issued in 2016.  In 2005, it was just one in 166.  Of the 11 states included in the study, New Jersey’s rate is the highest—up 19% from one in 41 in 2016.  Nearly 3% of the state’s childhood population has been diagnosed with ASD, nearly double the national rate of 1.7%.  Boys in New Jersey are 3.7 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ASD.  The prevalence of ASD in New Jersey also crosses racial lines: Whites, 30.2 per 1,000; Blacks, 26.8; Hispanics, 29.3; and Asians/Pacific Islanders, 19.2 in; compared to 17.2, 16.0, 14.0, and 13.5 respectfully nationwide. 

ASD Chart

Source: Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, New Jersey Autism Study

Walter Zahorodny, an associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School who directed the New Jersey portion of the study, called the results “consistent, broad and startling.”  He said the analysis shows U.S. autism rates are continuing to rise rather than leveling off as the 2016 CDC report suggested.

“It is now clear that what we saw in 2016 was just a pause along the way.  It remains to be seen at what point ASD rates will plateau,” Zahorodny said.  “There are still undefined environmental risks which contribute to this significant increase, factors that could affect a child in its development in utero or related to birth complications or to the newborn period. We need more research into non-genetic triggers for autism.”

Zahorodny joined researchers in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin in analyzing information collected from the health and special education records of 325,483 children who were eight years-old in 2014.

According to the CDC report, the national autism rate is 16.8 per 1,000 children, with rates in the following participating states: Arizona, 14.0; Arkansas, 13.1; Colorado, 13.9; Georgia, 17.0; Maryland, 20.0; Minnesota, 24.0; Missouri, 14.1; New Jersey, 29.3; North Carolina, 17.4; Tennessee, 15.5; Wisconsin, 14.1.

While the researchers cannot explain why autism rates are increasing across the country, Zahorodny notes that children diagnosed early often respond better to treatment, and that the average age of diagnosis—53 months—has not changed in 15 years.

"The staggering new numbers on the prevalence of autism indicate that elected officials, the disability community and the state as a whole must work to ensure the proper services are available to this population so that they can live integrated lives and reach their full potential,” said autism community advocate Tom Baffuto, executive director of the ARC of New Jersey.  “Children with autism become adults with autism, and as advocates, we must collaborate with lawmakers to ensure supports are in place to assist with the unique challenges they face throughout their lifetime.  We applaud Senator Menendez for his vigilance on the issues impacting people with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities and we are eager to serve as a resource and provide assistance to individuals with autism and their families however and whenever possible."

Sen. Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy, secured passage of the 2011 Combating Autism Reauthorization Act and introduced the Autism Coordination, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act, also known as the Autism CARES Act, signed into law in 2014, that authorizes federal programs that support the autism community, and fund cutting edge research and the development of new treatments and therapies.  The New Jersey Autism Study is funded through Autism CARES.

Despite the Trump Administration’s efforts to zero-out Autism CARES funding for research, treatment and services to help those with autism, Sen. Menendez was able to secure $49 million in the recently-passed omnibus spending bill, an additional $2 million above previous spending.

The Autism CARES Act, which also includes key provisions of Sen. Menendez’s Assistance in Gaining Experience, Independence and Navigation (AGE-IN) Act to address the needs of youth and young adults as they transition out of school-based support to independent adulthood, expires September 30 if Congress fails to reauthorize the landmark legislation. 

Earlier this month, the senator toured the Center for Autism in Newark—a brand new facility that assists adults with autism, where he met experts and individuals with autism and their families—to commemorate April being Autism Awareness Month.  

In 2016, Sen. Menendez received the 2016 Legislative Leadership Award from the New Jersey Association of Community Providers (NJACP) in recognition of his ongoing leadership, passion and commitment to ensuring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are afforded every opportunity and choice to live as independently as possible.