• Autism students' attendance record hurt for going to therapy sessions

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    ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Therapy is a must for children diagnosed with autism, but some parents said getting them there is a challenge. 

    That's because in some cases, leaving school for therapy could impact a child's attendance record at school. 

    Orange County resident Wilnelia Castro wants her daughter to get a least 30 hours a week of one-on-one therapy at Santiago and Friends Family Center for Autism, but getting there isn’t easy.

    “It’s a constant thing, so I had to cut down on her therapy,” said Castro.

    Castro said she couldn't afford to have her third-grader miss school for her sessions.

    She said it was counting as tardy or absent, depending on how long she was gone.

    “She needs her therapy, and that's what they don't understand,” Castro said.

    A bill working its way through Tallahassee would require school districts to specifically name autism therapy in policies, and prohibit sessions from counting against a child's attendance record. The bill was filed by Rep. Rene Plasencia.

    Advocates said asking parents to go before or after school isn't the answer.

    “You have so many different therapies that, in a block from 3-6 after school Monday through Friday, not all centers have the capacity to serve students,” said Marucci Guzman, of Santiago and Friends Family Center for Autism.

    School districts currently list a medical condition for a child to be excused, but advocates said because autism cases aren't specifically listed, they are often left to the discretion of principals.

    They want that power in the hands of parents.

    “Parents are their child's best advocate. They know what their child goes through on a daily basis,” Guzman said. 

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