NJ Advance Media for NJ.com – Autism remains an evolving diagnosis.
The developmental disability wasn’t classified a standalone disorder until 1980. Then in the mid-1990s, it was labeled a spectrum disorder.
But even now, experts continue to debate the criteria of just what autism is — and the root causes behind the precipitous rise in cases.
The autism rate rose 300% in parts of New Jersey between 2000 and 2016, according to a new Rutgers University study published in the journal Pediatrics. The research also found a 500% rise in children with autism spectrum disorder and no intellectual impairment.
Researchers collected data from more than 4,600 8-year-olds identified with ASD from four New Jersey counties — Essex, Hudson, Ocean and Union — in that period.
“A 500% increase cannot just be … attributed to better awareness fully,” said Josephine Shenouda, an adjunct professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health and lead author of the study. “It doesn’t really make sense. So there is a true increase.”
“And there are environmental factors that we can point to. We can say that parental age is a factor that increases autism, and we have seen in our metro area here that the average age of first pregnancy has been on the rise. That’s a contributing factor that we know of.”
For decades, autism has been tied to one’s intellectual capacity.
But a fivefold increase in cases was found among kids who have no intellectual disability, meaning they met the criteria for an ASD diagnosis but had an average or above-average IQ.
It was previously thought that 50% to 70% of children with autism were intellectually impaired, experts say …