The recent election of Chris Christie (R) as New Jersey governor may signal a shift in the state’s autism priorities if Christie fulfills a campaign promise made to “vaccine choice” advocates. Just days prior to the election, Christie vowed to support greater parental choice in vaccine decisions for their kids. Immediately after Christie defeated incumbant Jon Corzine, one anti-vaccine group issued a press release, taking credit for the victory and for establishing a powerful new voting block in the state.
Because New Jersey has the highest incidence of autism in the country, it is often plays host to conversations on possible causes and effective treatments for the disorder. A focus on linking autism to vaccines by the governor-elect would signal a departure from the viewpoints of Autism New Jersey, the state’s leading autism advocacy and services group, and the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT), a New Jersey-based non-profit organization with which provides information and recommendations based on science. These organizations share the view of the Center for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations that scientific evidence does not support a link between vaccines and autism.
Both Autism New Jersey and ASAT are vocal supporters of the use of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy in treatment of children with autism. In August, at the urging of these groups and others in the autism community, Corzine signed a bill that will mandate insurance coverage of ABA. State Democrats subsequently claimed that Christie’s opposition to insurance mandates would prevent autistic children from receiving this expensive therapy.
State advocacy groups have taken to reminding state agencies and government officials that kids with autism will become adults with autism and will need lifelong support. Weeks before the election, Corzine announced the creation of a state-wide office which will provide services to adults. (Video of announcement is here.) Christie has also vowed to support services to adults, however this committment will be more expensive to keep than the one he made to the anti-vaccine advocates.
It is way to early to know how actively the new governor will work with autism groups and the extent to which he will support spending to fully fund initiatives that will benefit autistic children and adults. Regardless of your position on vaccines, if you are a parent, you want to know that your child will be given every chance possible to live a full and productive life, and that his needs will always be met. Many parents, including your New Jersey-based correspondent, will find no comfort in a shift in priorities that isn’t supported by science or necessity.
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