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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Amid reported 66% hike in autism cases, UPR-Humacao, DE boost services

By The Star Staff

Education Secretary Yanira Raíces Vega signed the continuity of a collaborative agreement with the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Humacao Campus Chancellor Carlos A. Galiano Quiñones that would help integrate tools to aid students with autism.

The agreement was also signed by the associate secretary of special education, Noelia Cortés Cordero.

“We feel grateful for the great collaboration that we have always received from the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao,” Raíces Vega said. “The agreement provides services to students ages 3 to 5 years diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, referred by the Humacao Regional Educational Office, at the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao. We continue to integrate important and essential tools so our children can develop efficiently.”

Galiano Quiñones emphasized the importance of the agreement for children and their families in Puerto Rico’s eastern region.

“We are very happy because through this agreement, the services offered to the children who attend our Preschool Demonstration Center will be strengthened,” he said. “This center has been serving the community for 45 years and stands out for its curricular integration aimed at the social, emotional, cognitive, physical and creative development of the student. Finally, I express my gratitude to the people who participated in the development of this agreement, to the Department of Education of Puerto Rico and, especially, to the faculty of the Department of Education of our institution.”

The mission of the Demonstration Center at UPR-Humacao is for children to receive necessary services, including special education for occupational, physical, speech and social therapies, among others.

Cortés Cordero, the associate secretary of special education, noted that there will be interagency meetings to refine the details and continue providing training to staff.

“This is an additional way for children with autism to receive first-hand the services they deserve and that have been determined by a professional,” she said. “I am extremely pleased with this agreement and I am sure that we will continue to strengthen the ties of cooperation that will result in the best benefit for the program participants.”

The agreement will be valid until June 30, 2025.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Autism Alliance of Puerto Rico Executive Director Joyce Dávila warned of the exponential growth in autism diagnoses on the island, which represents 66% more than last year.

“This increase in autism requires early diagnosis and intervention services, as well as the regulation of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy recommended for this disorder; however, there are not enough resources to address these needs,” Dávila said in a written statement.

She added that, according to 2020 data, one in every 36 children in Puerto Rico is diagnosed with autism, which she contended represents a public health crisis.

“Families who care for people with autism in Puerto Rico also face a shortage of services for their children as they reach adulthood, which aggravates the situation,” Dávila said. “Part of the problem is that there is no effective transition between the pediatrician of the child with autism and when he or she already requires care from an adult doctor, and the long waits that come with medical appointments in Puerto Rico.”

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