New Jersey's autism rate is among the highest in the nation. In fact, new research by the University of Medicine and Dentistry has found that the rate nearly doubled in four years.

Autism in New Jersey (Flickr: hepingting)

One in 57 eight-year-old children from four sample counties had autism in 2006 compared to one in 94 just four years earlier.

"I think increased awareness could be part of the reason," said Suzanne Buchanan, interim executive director of Autism New Jersey. "But, researchers are also looking at other factors such as the age at which parents have children, older parents, as well as other environmental factors that may increase the risk for autism."

"We've known since March that the prevalence of autism in New Jersey was approaching two percent and what was surprising to me in this study was that the vast majority, about 75 or 80 percent, of individuals met the criteria for autistic disorder, which is a more severe form of autism," said Buchanan. "So, while virtually everyone on the spectrum needs some level of support services, individuals on the severe end need them even more so. I would really see this as a call of action for the state and providers of all disciplines to endorse and utilize evidence-based practices, such as applied behavior analysis, to provide individuals with autism and their families the services that give them the best odds for an improved quality of life."

"The good news is that students and kids in New Jersey have very rich health and education records from which the research team could attempt to ascertain if a child met criteria for a diagnosis. We just don't see as many reports for children in other states," said Buchanan.