The autism prevalence study released last week by the Centers for Disease Control added urgency to the autism services issue, Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts, a Camden Democrat, told the newspaper. The CDC research put New Jersey's autism prevalence at one out of every 94 children -- the highest of the 14 states included in the study. Taken across all 14 states, the study put autism prevalence at 1 in 150 children -- higher than the previously used rate of 1 in 166. (You can read more background on the study here and why Alabama specialists believe their autism rate in the CDC report was artificially low by clicking here. You can see a copy of the study in a PDF format by clicking here.)
Roberts said he expects to file some of the bills next week. The research bill would add $4 million a year to research and clinical funding grants, The Record reported. He told the newspaper:
"I'm like everyone else in New Jersey in that I know so many people who have had family members, particularly children, diagnosed with autism. We may be unclear in terms of why we have ranked with the highest documented cases of any state -- it could be we're doing a better job detecting and reporting -- but at the very least it's a wake-up call for action."
Advocacy groups such as the New Jersey Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community (COSAC) praised the movement toward legislation. Last fall, COSAC published a report, "Meeting the Needs of Adults With Autism: A Blueprint for the Future," which you can find online here (a PDF document). One of its recommendations, the task force to identify the services needs for adults with autism, is part of the package of bills cited above.
The 26-page COSAC report is a good document for parents and families who have an adult or teenager with autism, as well as those who are thinking ahead to the future. Think of the New Jersey report as a model and ask what is happening in your state.
The COSAC report cites the need for individualized services for people with autism -- services that evolve as the person changes over time -- to help them live in community-based settings and find suitable employment; the need to better organize the existing quilt of services and supports, and make these easier to understand for families of people with autism; the need for more trained service providers; a way to get respite care for families; and to better harvest available federal dollars to pay for these services.
Among the statistics cited in the COSAC report: the population of school-aged students with autism in New Jersey was 2,355 in 1999. The number in 2005: 6,665.
I expect to find more information when lawmakers file the bills in the New Jersey Assembly and will post updates.