Sun Editorial: Recent report notes Autism cases on the rise in New Jersey

Experts say more research is needed to understand contributing causes.       

A recent study shows autism continues to affect children in New Jersey far more often than children in other states. Why? Experts say more research is needed to understand contributing causes.       

ScienceDaily recently reported on a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which used research from Rutgers University. The study showed the percentage of children in New Jersey with autism spectrum disorder rose 43 percent from 2010 to 2014. That means one in 38 children in the state has been diagnosed. The other states in the survey averaged one in 59 children.

One reason for the high number in the state could be a positive one. The report noted New Jersey has excellent services and high standards for reporting on autism. At least part of the reason the state’s figures are so high could be attributed to the state identifying and reporting children with autism more often than other states.

But the report does point out several steps that can be improved universally. Currently, early evaluation of children with autism usually occurs when they are just over 4 years old. Experts recommend screening should begin around 18 months and say children who are diagnosed early respond better to treatment and special services.

The experts also say that such factors as advanced parental age and maternal illness during pregnancy can lead to autism in children. However, they also point out those factors don’t explain away the growing number of children diagnosed with autism.

According to the study, they recommend, in addition to earlier screening, more research into the non-genetic factors that might play a role in the growing number of children with autism.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to recommend specific steps when so much is unknown about the causes of autism. Earlier screening and more research certainly make sense – in addition to supporting services and programs that aid children with autism.