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May 14, 2019

Eight in ten New Jerseyans say they know someone who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Sixty-eight percent know an ASD-diagnosed child outside their family, 48 percent know an ASD-diagnosed adult outside their family, 31 percent have a child family member with ASD, and 18 percent have an adult family member. Despite these connections, few interact regularly with people who have autism. This is according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, which was conducted in collaboration with the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence at Rutgers University.

The poll found a lack of understanding of autism, with most New Jerseyans viewing autism as a behavioral problem, and far fewer as a nervous-system disorder. Six in ten (62 percent) had seen or heard ASD referred to as a behavioral problem; almost as many (55 percent) believed that a child with autism does not have the ability to control his or her behavior.

“The American Psychiatric Association has already included sensory issues … as part of the criteria for diagnosing Autism, yet the public still perceives Autism as a behavioral problem or mental illness more than they do a disorder of the nervous system,” said Elizabeth Torres, associate professor of Psychology and director of the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence. “This misperception of what Autism is and is not is especially detrimental to treating it in schools. Without neurologists on hand, teachers and aides may not know how to cope with the somatic and sensory-motor issues that we have measured in research settings.”

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