NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University has opened research center to study the treatment and service needs for people with autism spectrum disorders that will allow an advisory board of parents and advocates of the disability community to identify unmet needs.

Based in New Brunswick, the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence is funded through the Governor's Council for Medical Research and the state Department of Health. The center is intended to integrate research, clinical care and eduction of people with ASD.

Leading the programs at the center are  Elizabeth Torres, an associate professor in psychology at Rutgers; James Millonig, an associate professor in neuroscience and cell biology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; and Jill Harris, director of Research Development and Coordinator of Autism Services at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside.

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The consumer advisory board will provide input on the needs of people with autism to shape the center's program, the university said in a statement.

Statistically, autism affects one in 59 children in United States, but in New Jersey the ratio is higher, with one in 34 children having the disorder, according to the university.

While New Jersey has maintained a governor's council to research autism for 20 years, Torres said, "like the rest of the nation, we lack a comprehensive network that allows researchers, clinicians and families to connect."

"We also face barriers to research and don’t have a scientifically grounded understanding of how well certain treatments work," she said.

Torres also stressed the lack of adequate insurance coverage for basic needs. Families cannot afford treatment that can help their children. “Then, children age beyond school years and services end,” she said.

Large numbers of adults with autism "live without any hope to be embraced by our society. We need to change the model to help children with autism become adults who are an integral part of our workforce,” Torres said.