Advocate, pediatrician react to study showing increased autism diagnosis rates

Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 9:31 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 3, 2023 at 10:22 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A new study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows autism diagnosis rates have tripled in the last 16 years.

The study conducted by researchers from Rutgers University found children being diagnosed with autism tripled between 2000 and 2016.

“I was not surprised at all due to the fact that there is a opportunity now for more access to assessments. Also, parents are now becoming advocates and they’re educating themselves on the proper way to advocate for a diagnosis,” said Tametria Conner Dantzler, founder of D.A.T.S M.O.M., or Disability as an Ability Toward Success: Moms on the Move.

Dantzler founded D.A.T.S.M.O.M. after her own fight to get a diagnosis for her 9-year-old son, Conner. At 23 months old, Conner was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a neurodevelopmental condition that impacts every facet of an individual’s life.

“It was very difficult navigating his journey and figuring out what was wrong and actually getting a diagnosis,” said Dantzler. “I want to meet Connor where he is and identify his deficits and make sure that he’s getting all available therapies and treatments for him to be able to have a functional and also a full scope of life to the best of his ability.”

Over the last four years, D.A.T.S.M.O.M. has helped hundreds of families of children on the autism spectrum or with related developmental disabilities.

“We have had numbers skyrocket. I’m getting calls or emails every day with people saying, ‘Hey, I have a first time diagnosis. I need support. I need to figure out kind of what to do,’” said Dantzler.

“There are options to be diagnosed virtually where you can get off of those long waiting list for clinical assessments. We’ve had at least 16 diagnoses of Montgomery residents through the virtual assessment, and they’re making appointments weekly,” she said.

‘There was a much more dramatic increase in positions recognizing that children without intellectual disabilities could still have autism,” said pediatrician Dr. Nola Ernest.

Ernest said there has been greater awareness among parents, better tools for diagnosing, and doctors have gotten better at identifying cases.

“We want to recognize that even children that don’t have intellectual disabilities, and in fact, even children that are intellectually very intelligent, can still have challenges and may still need therapy,” she said.

Both Ernest and Dantzler say early diagnosis is key.

“One of the things that families can do that helps to identify autism at an early age is to simply bring their child to see their pediatrician,” said Ernest.

“I just encourage people that know that something is wrong to keep pushing,” said Dantzler.

D.A.T.S.M.O.M. has a lot of resources for parents of children with autism. You can contact them online, by phone at 334-669-6590 or by email at They are also on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

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