April 29, 2011 - First Lady Mary Pat Christie and State Health and Human Services Officials Unveil New Resources to Help Families Affected by Autism

For Immediate Release: Contact: Michael Drewniak
Kevin Roberts
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Date: Friday, April 29, 2011 609-777-2600 Bookmark and Share
photoAlt Trenton, NJ - First Lady Mary Pat Christie joined the Commissioners of the Departments of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and Human Services (DHS) to unveil two new State resources available to assist families faced with the diagnosis of autism. The initiatives, a guide entitled Autism, Navigating through the Maze and its accompanying website, were officially launched at a statewide conference held today at the PSE&G Children's Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick. 

"Throughout my travels this month, I have had an opportunity to meet and speak with many families of children and young adults with autism," said Mrs. Christie. "In these discussions, there has been a common vision -- that as parents, we all want the best possible outcomes for our children so that they have the greatest opportunities that lead to productive and satisfying lives.

"The tools being launched today bring New Jersey another step closer to helping families impacted by autism fulfill those goals. I applaud Commissioner Velez and Acting Commissioner O'Dowd and their staff for the work they are doing to make a difference for this community."

The new guide and website provide a foundation of information about services, resources and support available to New Jersey families facing the challenges of autism and other developmental disabilities. Web links to a variety of relevant community-based agencies in the Garden State providing assistance are also included.

A reported 1 in 94 New Jersey children is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) - one of the highest prevalence rates in the nation.

New Jersey has a strong commitment to helping individuals and families affected by autism. The DHSS Early Intervention Program provides services to children from birth to age three who have a developmental delay or disability, including autism. In addition, the Governor's Council for Medical Treatment of Autism has awarded $5 million in basic science research grants to study the causes, triggers and treatment of ASDs. DHSS also maintains an Autism Registry of diagnosed cases of autism that can help link families with services as well as provide data that can be used in research studies or in planning services for people with ASDs.

"This guide and website will help ease some of the burden on parents, helping them quickly find information and services that can benefit their child's development. Children who get early, appropriate services have the best opportunity to lead independent lives," said DHSS Acting Commissioner Mary O'Dowd, who hosted today's event. "I commend the Department of Human Services for creating these valuable resources."

"The state departments and private organizations that provide quality supports and services to children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities have the common goal of assisting people in reaching their full potential," said DHS Commissioner Jennifer Velez. "Each of our departments worked together to develop the guide and the website, which will continue to evolve as we learn more from individuals, their families and from one another."

In August 2010, the Office on Autism was established within the DHS' Division of Developmental Disabilities, creating a centralized location to coordinate autism-related information. The Office has organized an Interdepartmental Work Group, which includes the New Jersey Departments of Human Services; Health and Senior Services; Children and Families; Community Affairs; Education; and Labor and Work Force Development to enhance coordination among state agencies charged with providing services to persons with autism spectrum disorder.

Autism is a spectrum of disorders that is complex and lifelong. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nationwide, it is estimated that autism occurs in 1 out of every 110 births.

Most often, autism is diagnosed during the first three years of life and is characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, severely limited interests and repetitive behaviors. It is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls and affects families of all races, ethnicities and socio-economic groups.

Throughout the month of April, First Lady Mary Pat Christie has highlighted innovative work being done by organizations throughout the state to serve people with autism spectrum disorder. Mrs. Christie toured the EPIC School in Paramus to see the structured educational programs that are teaching new skills and increasing independence for students with autism and she visited the Woodrow Wilson Middle School coffee shop in Edison, which is operated by students with autism and other developmental disabilities. She also visited P.R.I.D.E. Center in Chatham to see first-hand the independent living skills and vocational training services provided there for young adults with autism and other special needs.