NEW JERSEY (PIX11) — “It was the worst day of my life when I found out my son would never speak,” recalled Darlene Heins, a New Jersey mother raising a child with autism.
When we first met Heins in 2011, she gave us a glimpse into her life as a single mom raising her then-16-year-old Christopher who has autism.
One of the biggest obstacles for her at the time was getting the services she needed to care for the teen.
Three years later, a lot has changed.
“He’s doing a lot on his own right now,” she told PIX11 News. “He’s using the dish washer, doing his own laundry, he’s doing things that I never thought he would do.
Heins credits his progress over the years to the resources now readily available to him.
“He’s just able to focus more which makes my life easier as well.”
According to a startling new report released this week, autism rates in children have surged nationally 30% when compared to 2 years ago. No 1 in 68 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder.
In New Jersey alone, the number is even more staggering – one in 45 children have autism in the Garden State.
While they’re many contributing factors, one points to families moving to the state to receive the advanced services not offered in others.
“I have actually bragged about New Jersey and the services they have,” Heins said. “They have the best schools, they have the best programs.”
“You know the saying – it takes a village to raise a child but this really is about it takes a state to raise this child.”
A spokesperson for Autism Family Services of New Jersey, a leading provider of aid, says the idea that the state’s services are attracting families which in turn is affecting the numbers, may hold some weight.
“There may be some truth to the idea that there is an increase in people moving to the state because we have an array of services for children and adults on the autism spectrum,” Jessica Goldsmith-Barzilay, Assistant Director of Autism Family Services of NJ told PIX11 News.
“Likely more prominent is NJ’s first-rate system for identifying and diagnosing autism, but the increase cannot be tied to better detection alone. There is an actual increase.
According to Goldsmith-Barzilay, there may be other factors leading to the high incidence in New Jersey that experts just aren’t aware of.
Increased awareness in identifying and diagnosing children is another contributing factor.
While the spectrum may widen and the rates increase, Heins offers up some stern advice.
“To the parents out there, yes a diagnosis is scary. It is hard to hear but the sooner you get this done and identify these things with your children, they have a better chance of surviing and getting by in the world.”