During National Autism Awareness Month, the New Jersey Department of Health reminds parents with young children and health care providers to be aware of early warning signs and symptoms of the disorder. The Department is also asking parents of children diagnosed with autism to take advantage of New Jersey programs designed specifically to help families impacted by the condition.
“It is critical for parents and caregivers to be aware of normal developmental milestones,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal. “Once a delay is suspected, early evaluation and intervention will help families to better cope and meet the developmental and health-related needs of their child.”
Autism is a biologically-based disorder that impacts the development and functioning of a person’s verbal and non-verbal communication skills, social interactions and patterns of behavior. Early warning signs that a child between the ages of 12 and 24 months may have autism include: A delay in spoken language, repetitive use of language, little or no eye contact, lack of interest in peer relationships, lack of spontaneous or make-believe play and a loss of previously acquired skills.
One out of every 41 children in New Jersey are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
New Jersey is one of only eight states with an Autism Registry of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The Registry was created to better understand autism or ASD in New Jersey and to link families to available services and supports. Neurologists, pediatricians, nurse practitioners and other autism providers are required to report cases to the registry so children can be referred for resources and services. More than 27,000 children and adults up to age 21 who are registered are referred to their county case management unit and to Early intervention if the child is under three years of age.
Governor Murphy’s proposed budget provides $170 million for the Department of Health’s Early Intervention System, which acts as early identification and referral, service coordination, evaluation/assessment, and developmental early intervention services for children from birth to three with developmental delays and disabilities.
Each of New Jersey’s 21 counties maintains a Special Child Health Services Case Management Unit to promote access to care and family supports for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs from birth through 21 years of age. Services include education about community-based resources and how to access them, advocacy training, individualized service planning, and periodic monitoring. Information about how to access these services at no cost is available on the Department’s website: http://www.nj.gov/health/fhs/specialneeds/case-management/.
New Jersey is also at the forefront of supporting autism research through the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism. Since 2008, the Council has provided more than $39 million in research grants for initiatives like autism medical homes as well as with a Center for Excellence located at Montclair State University.
“The autism medical home focuses on creating an optimal plan to ensure we best prepare our families for a successful transition to adult care,” said Matthew B. McDonald III, M.D., Chief of Special Needs Pediatrics at Children’s Specialized Hospital. “Transition is a process that impacts many areas of life including health, education and training, employment, living situation, and possibly guardianship. We want to learn how to best help our families.”
“When children are growing up they typically have a pediatrician serving as the medical home, but once they reach adulthood, it can feel daunting to find an adult provider,” said McDonald. “This transition tool will help alleviate this challenge and support a smooth, safe transition."