Autism Prevalence Rates Increased 500% in New York-New Jersey Metro Region

January 30, 2023

Highest Increase Seen in Children without Intellectual Disabilities

New autism prevalence research from the Rutgers School of Public Health shows that documented cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the New York-New Jersey metro region increased by as much as 500% between 2000 and 2016. This same research also discovered that the highest increase in autism was among children without intellectual disabilities. These findings come from the New Jersey Autism Study, which examines 8-year-olds in four New Jersey counties biannually as part of the CDC’s autism prevalence tracking effort. During the 16-year study period, the Rutgers researchers identified 4,661 children with autism in the observed regions. Of these children, only 32% had co-occurring intellectual disability, which is at odds with older studies showing that as many as 75% of children with autism have intellectual disability. This research also examined ASD prevalence and its relationship with race and socioeconomic status. The study indicated that Black children with ASD and no intellectual disabilities were 30% less likely to be identified compared to White children. The researchers also discovered that children living in affluent areas were 80% more likely to be identified with ASD and no intellectual disabilities compared to kids in underserved areas. These two findings highlight the unfortunate reality that non-White children living in underprivileged areas are underdiagnosed with autism. This begs the question, are children living in these circumstances exposed to more environmental insults such as increased air pollution, pesticides, and lead exposure through pipes and paint, coupled with suboptimal nutrition and medical care, making them more vulnerable to developing ASD? When asked about the cause behind the incredible rise in autism rates, Senior author Walter Zahorodny stated, “Better awareness of and testing for ASD does play a role. But the fact that we saw a 500% increase in autism among kids without any intellectual disabilities–children we know are falling through the cracks–suggests that something else is also driving the surge.” 

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