TRENTON — In New Jersey, one in every 94 children has an autism spectrum disorder, the highest incidence rate among the 16 states surveyed by the federal government.
Among New Jersey boys, the rate is one in 70, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The phenomenon is one of the greatest challenges facing New Jersey's special-education system today. Not only because of the sheer number of autistic students — which has more than doubled in the past decade, to nearly 12,000 — but also because of the very nature of autism.
Autism is a complex biological condition that, to varying degrees, affects a child's ability to communicate and develop social relationships skills that are at the very core of the educational process.
That means that students often have to be taught in a completely different way than other children. Yet as many parents soon discover, the way that happens in New Jersey — which has no uniform curriculum standards for autism programs or any special training requirements for teachers who work with autistic students — can be as confounding as autism itself.