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For Release:
April 30, 2009

Heather Howard

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner
(609) 984-7160

Governor Corzine, Commissioner Howard meet with advocates and parents of children with Autism


 Marking National Autism Awareness Month, Governor Jon S. Corzine today met with a group of autism advocates and families to highlight New Jersey’s progress in promoting early diagnosis and improved care for those with the disorder.


During the meeting at The Center for Neurological and Neurodevelopmental Health in Voorhees, one of six state-funded centers of excellence for autism care, the Governor also announced that $5 million in autism research grant funding is now available for researchers.


          “New Jersey is leading the way with a comprehensive program that helps support families and responds to this growing public health problem,” Governor Corzine said.  “We’ve devoted more than $13 million to autism research and to helping families get needed services.” 


          The Governor announced that 10 grants of $500,000 each are available through the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism. May 25 is the application deadline for the two-year grants.  In the first round of grant funding in 2007, a total of $3.3 million was awarded to researchers at the state’s universities and medical schools.


One in 94 New Jersey children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder -- the highest rate among states examined in a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that impairs a child’s social, learning and behavioral skills.


In 2007, Governor Corzine signed a package of bills designed to improve autism treatment, training, education and research in the state. 


“Autism can be reliably diagnosed by age two.  Early screening for autism is critical because we know that treatment programs are more effective when begun at younger ages,” said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard. 


To encourage early screening and referral for care, the Department of Health and Senior Services worked in cooperation with autism advocacy groups, parents, physicians and nursing organizations and others to develop new guidelines for healthcare professionals. The guidelines encourage early detection and suggest nationally recognized screening tools providers can use.


The guidelines are available on the web at   DHSS is distributing the guidelines to medical and other groups concerned with children’s health.


When screening suggests possible autism, children may be referred for evaluation at one of six clinical centers funded through the Governor’s Council.  In 2008, New Jersey gave the centers $6 million in grant funding to help families access evaluations more quickly.  Children are evaluated by a multidisciplinary team that includes physician specialists, speech and hearing experts, psychologists and social workers.   


“This funding enables the Center for Neurological and Neurodevelopmental Health to meet the demand for quick access to early identification, assessment and treatment for autism for the entire southern New Jersey community,” said Mark Mintz, M.D., pediatric neurologist and president of the Center for Neurological and Neurodevelopmental Health. “As a Clinical Enhancement Center we can assist families, healthcare providers and school districts in understanding the diagnosis and clinical management of Autism Spectrum Disorders and provide empirical data on the response to the therapeutic interventions.’’ 


Every child diagnosed with autism now must be reported to the state’s new Autism Registry under regulations that took effect last month.  As a result, Registry data will be much more complete and more valuable to researchers conducting studies.  DHSS can also use the data to identify trends and plan services for children and families.  A new web-based reporting system will be available this summer.


Children with developmental delays, including autism, can receive special services through the department’s Early Intervention Program for children from birth to age three.


Other accomplishments include:


  • A web-based training module on autism and other developmental disabilities is being developed for all first responders in the state, and should be available by this fall. Police, fire and emergency medical services workers will learn to recognize people with autism or other developmental disabilities, and they will become familiar with safe and effective strategies for interacting with this population.  This integrated curriculum is one of the first of its kind in the nation.



The Council’s autism initiatives are funded through a $1 surcharge on motor vehicle violations and fines, which results in about $4 million annually for autism research, treatment and education.


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