Senators worried over New Jersey's claim to the highest autism rate in America, have pushed toward law proposals to promote research into autism and provide lifetime care for those with the disorder. A recent U.S. study of childhood autism, the largest so far, has found that about 1 in 152 have the disorder, with the highest rate — 1 in 94 children — found in New Jersey.
According to Madeleine Goldfarb, a Livingston mother of a 13-year-old autistic son, a crisis looms as children with autism approach adulthood without specialized services and with aging parents. Another recent study had found that less than 13 percent of people with autism in New Jersey attend day programs and 89 percent live at home.
"We are woefully, woefully unprepared," Goldfarb was quoted, lobbying senators to support creating a task force on adult autism.
Autism is a complex disorder usually not diagnosed in children until after age 3. It is characterized by a range of behaviors, including difficulty in expressing needs and an inability to socialize. Its cause is unknown.
The bills proposed would establish a statewide autism registry, restructure a state research and treatment council, train teachers in autism awareness, instruct physicians in early detection, create the task force on adult autism and provide more money for research and treatment.
The proposals, pushed by Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., were approved in March by the Assembly. The approval by the Senate health committee on Monday means they can now be considered by the full Senate.
Says bill sponsor Sen. Loretta Weinberg: "With our increased understanding of the spectrum of autism disorders comes the increased responsibility of providing a support system for families and individuals living with autism in the Garden State."
She said the task force on adult autism will focus on job training and placement, housing and long-term care.
"While New Jersey has done a lot to help children with autism, many times the support dries up when those children transition into adulthood," Weinberg added. "In some of the most severe cases of autism, individuals need structured support for their entire lives."