Lindy Washburn at The Asbury Park Press:
New Jersey's rate of autism among children has always been high, but some of the largest school districts — including Toms River, Newark, Jersey City and Elizabeth — have rates even higher than the state average.
And in Toms River, the state's largest suburban school district, the autism rate is more than twice the state average, with one in 14 8-year-olds in the district on the autism spectrum, according to the first study to compare a cross-section of districts in the state.
Toms River’s autism rate is likely a harbinger of the rate all New Jersey districts will see soon, the study’s co-author said. In nearly all the 74 districts studied, the research showed a steady increase over time in the rate of students with autism.
“It feels like some kind of science fiction,” said Walter Zahorodny, co-author of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, of the data he presents to educational and parent groups. To say that 7% of 8-year-olds in one school district — and 5% of 8-year-old boys statewide — have autism is shocking, he added, “but in reality, this is true. And it can’t be explained.”
In Toms River and Ocean County, “The level of services is superior, so all these kids are coming to attention,” said Zahorodny. He suggested that access to specialists, such as those at a branch of Children’s Specialized Hospital in Toms River, and school systems where the staff is familiar with autism, make it easier to identify nearly all the children with autism.