School attendance bill helpful for kids with autism

By Stephanie Bechara, Osceola County Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, March 31, 2017, 5:35 PM EDT

A new bill proposed in the state legislature could be a game changer for students suffering from autism.

Javier is a 7-year-old child with autism. He goes to Santiago and Friends, a family center for autism, three hours a week. But his doctor prescribed 40 hours a week.

Centers like this one are so scarce. The issue is finding therapy times that fit your child's schedule without them missing school.

This is why State Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, has proposed House Bill 127. It's a bill that could help children with autism be excused from school for therapy reasons.

"As a parent, if they say the only spot they have available is Friday at 9 a.m., you have to take it,” said Javier’s mother, Gladys Beltran. “Because the only other choice is not giving him the therapy and that is not a choice."

The Osceola County School District said there is no limit to the number of excused absences a child can get. But it's up to each school following district guidelines to determine if the absence is excused or unexcused.

A spokesperson with Osceola County Schools said their goal is to have kids stay in school as much as possible, but are willing to work with student cases individually and determine what’s the greater need.

"As a parent, they know what's best for their child and they need to receive that therapy,” said Marucci Guzman, the executive director for Santiago & Friends. “They're able to end or start the day at school, leave at whatever point of the day."

The parents we spoke to say therapy time at centers like Santiago and Friends make all the difference in the world. Beltran says the "Applied Behavior Analysis" one-on-one time Javier gets there is his lifeline for the future.

"The main concern is what is going to happen when I am not there,” Beltran added. “So we worry everyday about that. To make our kids as much productive as possible."

At this point, HB 127 has one more committee stop before it can go to the floor for a vote. There is a companion bill in the Florida Senate.