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Newark - In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, and following release of a troubling new CDC study that finds one in 49 New Jersey children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder by age 8, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez today toured the Phoenix Center in Nutley and met with parents, educators, advocates and experts to discuss ongoing efforts into autism and what steps need to be taken to better address this growing crisis. Menendez is the Senate's leading advocate for a comprehensive federal response to combat autism and author of the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act, which facilitates federal efforts into research, screenings, therapies and public education on autism.

"Autism is a complex disorder and requires support tailored to the individual," said Senator Menendez. "Whatever the level of severity, autism rates are shockingly high in New Jersey, far above the national average. As autism becomes increasingly prevalent in our communities, we need to redouble our efforts to understand what can be done to help these children learn and grown into happy, productive adults."

The Centers for Disease Control now estimates that autism affects 1 in 88 children nationwide, with boys being diagnosed at five times the rate as girls. In New Jersey, one out every 49 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and the rate of diagnosis is significantly higher for boys at 1 in 29 than girls at 1 in 172.

Menendez added: "Today's conversation with New Jersey families and leaders in autism research, treatments, therapies and services gives me the confidence that we're moving in the right direction. But we must do more. I will continue working on the federal level to provide our families and local programs with the resources they need to support individuals with autism, both children and adults alike."

The Phoenix Center is a non-profit special education school for students with autism and multiple disabilities who require a highly customized program tailored to their individual needs. The school offers individualized teaching plans, a behavioral program, psychological counseling, speech/language, occupational and physical therapy, and adaptive programs to foster independence upon graduation. Additionally, there is a full slate of extracurricular activities including art and music education, cooking instruction, sports and horticultural therapy program.

The school serves students from Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Morris, Monmouth, Passaic and Union.