The number of documented cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in New Jersey increased 500% between 2000 and 2016, researchers from Rutgers University have found. The findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.
The researchers identified nearly five thousand 8-year-olds with ASD in four New Jersey counties. That's five times the number they had in 2000.
Interestingly, the increase in the prevalence of ASD was not accompanied by an increase in the prevalence of mental retardation. Of all the children in the study, only 32.3 percent had mental retardation. This is in contrast to estimates from previous studies, which showed that up to 75% of children with ASD also had mental retardation.
Researchers noted that better information may have influenced more frequent detection of ASD. But the five-fold increase in autism cases among children without any intellectual disability cannot be explained by improved diagnosis.
The analysis also showed that white children from affluent neighborhoods have better access to diagnosis. If a child from such an environment has ASD without intellectual disability, he or she has a 50% greater chance of timely diagnosis than a black child from a poor neighborhood with the same diagnosis.
Early intervention and early screening can reduce the likelihood of developing intellectual disability. Scientists' results show that universal screening is important, especially in areas with low socioeconomic development.
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