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N. Jersey: "It’s possible... a true increase in prevalence of autism-not just better diagnostics"

May 9, 2018, Cherry Hill (NJ) Courier Post: YOUR TURN: New autism rates surprising? Not to us https://www.courierpostonline.com/story/opinion/readers/2018/05/09/autism-new-jersey-rising-bancroft-tracy-kettering/594200002/ (“THE NEED TO PLAN FOR GROWTH”) Tracy Kettering (director of Bancroft’s Applied Behavior Analysis Center of Excellence): In the new Centers for Disease Control statistics on the prevalence of autism in the United States, the data is clear: The rate of autism diagnosis continues to rise. When I opened the study and took a dive into the highlights ... I wasn’t surprised. At all. You see, I work with children at The Bancroft School – and throughout Bancroft’s programs we have felt this increase coming, even before the actual numbers came out. So here it is. The rate of diagnosis has increased to 1 in 59 children nationally. And even more salient to us at Bancroft, New Jersey’s autism rate is the highest in the country, at 1 in 34 children – a 19 percent increase from 2016, the last time statistics were released. What does all this mean? Does this shock you? While it certainly is concerning, in our programs, it’s not surprising. Here’s why. Better diagnostic tools mean more cases identified As one of New Jersey’s largest providers of services and supports for individuals with autism and their families, currently serving more than 2,000 people, our programs feel the squeeze. We hear from families and school districts across the region looking for the right programs for a child. The phone is ringing. In fact, it rang over 300 times last year; that’s 300 people who needed help. Diagnostic assessment tools are continually improving, as is awareness of what developmental milestones and challenges to look for, which means we’re more accurately diagnosing cases of autism that may have previously flown under the radar. But we aren’t doing enough. … We still have a lot of work to do in continuing to build awareness of the early signs and symptoms of autism among both parents and physicians. We know that the earlier children receive services, the better. Early intervention – identifying autism and providing services by the age of 2 – remains the best way to make the greatest impact for the children we serve. And let’s be honest: With all the remarkable research being conducted throughout the country, we still don’t know what causes autism, and it’s possible there also could be a true increase in prevalence of autism – not just better diagnostics. … For organizations like Bancroft, the increase signals a continued need to plan for the future – and anticipate unprecedented growth in the demand for support and services for both children and adults. … It also means demand will be greater than ever for well-trained, highly educated, caring clinical staff, special educators and direct-support staff who provide the critical day-to-day support to support the children and adults served. There is a nationwide crisis building to find dependable and compassionate employees for all these children who are going to need a variety of services throughout their lifetime. And, most importantly, states need to be prepared for these increases, as well, and plan so adequate funds will be available for the wide array of services needed to provide the best possible care for these children across their lifespan. …