For children with autism, early intervention by specialists is so key to helping them have better lives that it’s required by federal law.
But a study by Rutgers University says most kids who could be helped won’t get those services, which help improve IQ, language skills and social interaction, among other things.
New Jersey is considered an “epicenter” of autism, and its autism rate is high compared with many parts of the country. But it also has a robust network of early intervention services.
The Rutgers researchers analyzed data collected from 2006 to 2016 by the New Jersey Autism Study, an autism spectrum disorder monitoring system created by the university.
They looked at the medical and special education records of more than 23,000 children in four New Jersey counties and found more than 4,000 8-year-olds with autism spectrum disorder.
Fewer than half — just 47% — had received early intervention help by the time they were 3 years old.
The researchers also reviewed data that showed children on the autism spectrum who live in wealthier areas were 80% more likely to receive early intervention help than those in disadvantaged areas. Black and Hispanic children also were less likely to take part in early intervention programs.
Researchers say those findings should disturb people all over.
The researchers said children in less advantaged areas may not be getting screened thoroughly or often enough, or there might not be enough follow-through when they are referred for services.
What will close the gap? The study suggests universal autism screening for kids between 1½ and 3 years old and more backing for early intervention — before it’s too late.