Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 38
 
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
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Governor Signs Bill at Eden Center, Boosting Fight Against Autism Disorders

Linda Arntzenius

Governor Jon S. Corzine visited the Eden Institute Foundation’s Clayton Center in West Windsor last week to sign into law a bipartisan package of seven new bills relating to autism spectrum disorders. The laws boost state support for programs aimed at helping those with autism and Asperger’s syndrome (the developmental disorder featuring autistic-like behaviors).

The signings took place at the headquarters for Eden WERCs (Work Education and Resource Centers), the program that provides employment opportunities for 90 adults with autism.

“I want to thank Governor Corzine, Assembly Speaker Roberts and all of those involved in bringing autism to the forefront. These measures are a landmark in bi-partisan support on an issue that is so important to thousands across the state,” commented Eden’s President and CEO, Dr. Thomas McCool.

“We are enhancing New Jersey’s pioneer status in the fight against autism spectrum disorders by bolstering our arsenal of programs, training, education and research,” said Mr. Corzine. “More importantly, we will be enabling those impacted by autism spectrum disorders to function as independent, productive and empowered individuals.

The Governor described the new legislation as “an opportunity for New Jersey to become a model for other states in researching the nature of autism and its causes as well as in treating those with these disorders.”

“This is one of those things that really captures our hearts,” he said.

The Bills

Intended to improve detection, treatment, and awareness, the new legislation establishes:

• a statewide registry of reported autism diagnoses reported to the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS);

• a teacher training and awareness program;

• an early intervention program in the Department of Health and Senior Services that includes developing guidelines for health care professionals to use in evaluating infants and toddlers for autism;

• a New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force in the Department of Human Services to study, evaluate, and develop measures that support the needs of adults with autism, including job training and placement, housing, and long-term care;

• extended funding for autism medical research and treatment;

• an Asperger’s Syndrome Pilot initiative in the Department of Human Services, to provide vocational, educational, and social training services through community-based service sites;

• and the renaming of the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism (changed from Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Infantile Autism).

According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the nation, though some have disputed this on the grounds that some states, Alabama for example, have failed to report their autism figures accurately.

The CDC study — the largest U.S. study of childhood autism to date — reported the prevalence of autism in the United States as an estimated 1 in 150 births, with the rate in New Jersey as an estimated 1 in 94.

“It is critically important that the state do all it can to help the growing number of individuals and families confronting autism spectrum disorders,” said Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts, Jr. (D-Camden) a chief sponsor of the legislation. “It is now the country’s fastest growing disability — more prevalent than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.”

While the new measures have been generally lauded, some concern has been expressed about the lack of additional funding for autism education, especially in view of measures that will increase the number of diagnoses that may result in more children coming into the system. The concept of an “autism registry” has been questioned regarding anonymity and the impact of public disclosure of a diagnosis like autism for an individual’s employment and insurance prospects.

Autism

Autism disorders are often characterized by substantial impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of unusual behaviors and interests. Four times more common in boys than girls, the disorder is found in all racial, ethnic and social groups, irrespective of family income, lifestyle, and education.

Since 1975, the Eden Family of Services has been working to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families by means of year-round educational services, early intervention, parent training, respite care, outreach services, community-based residential services, and employment opportunities. For more information about Eden visit www.edenservices.org or call (609) 987-0099.

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