Dozens of children with autism lose therapy grants in Spain.

  • The Ministry of education argues that the kids are already being treated in their schools

A therapy session for children with autism in a Valencia center.

The Ministry of education is denying aid that until now was paid to students with autism for special pedagogical retraining and language classes. Dozens of families in Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) who have not received the aid this school year are trying to reverse the situation by sending the therapy bills and certificates from operators of support centers. After the denunciation of these families, the El Pais newspaper has contacted several associations in all Spain and has found the case of 15 of the Spanish Federation of autism-FESPAU groups, which had asked 20,000 euros each for these therapies. For the first time they have denied them also and are waiting to know the reason. The organizations are located in Murcia, Madrid, the Balearic Islands, Cantabria, Cordoba and Santander.

Schools have to sign a paper calling for help after school

Not receiving the necessary therapy can take a person with autism back in their evolution and make them lose quality of life. The Ministry argues they already receiving enough help in the special centres they attend. Families continue to benefit from the NNEE (special needs) grants dedicated to help in material (up to 204 euros), school dining (up to 574) or transport (up to 617). But support for therapy was the most expensive, up to 913 euros a year. In Alcalá de Henares 62 aid packages were requested, and two have been accepted. “Last year we were given 3,300 euros in total, between NNEE and ICT (information technology), grants to projects of support within the Center”, says Alberto Baliñas, social worker of APTACAN Autism Cantabria Association, serving 52 families.

Pilar Vidal, President of Astea Henares, maintains that public centers “have very limited means and too many students, and sometimes professionals, despite their personal interest and efforts, are not sufficiently trained in autism and further training for them is not financed”. But she is not giving up: “It’s frustrating, unfair and immoral. The Administration should spare no money in areas as fundamental as health, culture and education”.

“They feel that they are asking something that does not belong to them,” says a therapist.

“What has happened is that before it was more lax, less rigid, and now with the crisis it’s not as if the requirements have changed, it’s that they comply more strictly than before”, says Javier Arnaiz, Counselor of the school for children with autism of Burgos. “You have to justify very well why you need more support if you have a speech therapist for four classrooms with six to eight students each”, he continues. In Castilla y León, one just needs a signed certificate to apply for therapy in very specific cases. “A student with a cochlear implant – for improved hearing – or a very specific therapy for someone with cerebral palsy”.

In the private Center Kaplan of Torrejón de Ardoz (Madrid) 30 of his patients have requested grants. In other years 27 were granted, but this time 22 have already been denied and the eight others have been asked for their bills, but that doesn’t mean that they go to grant. They are not only children with autism. Some suffer from Down syndrome, attention deficit or are undiagnosed. Noelia Pavón, the Director, describes this dramatic situation. Five kids have left the Center and the parents of others intending to recover the grant money – as in previous years – don’t know now how they will repay the loans to relatives. Two days a week of speech therapy cost 120 euros per month. “We coordinate ourselves with schools to work different things. It is not that their professionals do not know how to handle them, it’s more that they are used to pay a collective attention and our children need individualized attention”, explains Pavón, shocked by the guilt feeling that hurts the parents. “They feel bad, as if they were asking for something that does not belong to them and actually meet the requirements of income and needs.”

“We spend 700 EUR per month because each session is worth 40 euros”, says a mother

Kids need therapy to improve their capabilities of social and emotional empathy, to be able to communicate or to enhance their imagination. “My son already gives hugs and is learning how to show his feelings. If he is sad or tired”, says Rosa Belda, mother of a 11 year-old child with autism. They have been denied the aid for therapy, but with effort they continue paying 300 euros a month. “We don’t have money, but I’ll save from shopping, and my other two children do not go to afterschool classes”. She knows of cases of children who have already left the treatment. Such as some twins with parents without means. Or as Inma, an auxiliary nurse, with her husband unemployed and three sons, who is raising a 13 year-old child with autism, complaining that her child does not go to therapy. “Therapy is a priority, but I must feed him first… I have to dress him and buy him shoes”. She maintians that in school “they focus on the curricular attention” and in therapy “they focus on other things, like social or technical skills of problem solving”.

“It is the inspector who makes the assessment of the need for treatments. That’s why there may be differences from one area to another. They agree on the criteria locally, and there occur differences from one community to another,” explains Enrique Blat, of the Valencian Association of persons with autism.

“My son learns there to show his feelings”, explains somebody else

Other communities also tell how since the crisis started aid has been diminishing. “It’s been fou or five years since they stopped granting aids for therapy for children going to special schools”, explains the Association of relatives of people with autism of Asturias. “They are for those who go to special units in regular schools. For better or worse, with the aid plus some 100 euros a month, the therapy is covered”.

“In our case, children who go to integrated schools never have received this type of aid”, explains Amaya Áriz, President of the Association for autism in Navarra. Their organization takes care of 80 children with a speech therapist and a psychologist, in addition to swimming and adapted judo courses. Members subsidize for families who cannot afford it. “We have eight families who depend on our help,” says Ariz. “Of our annual budget, only 1% comes from public funding: a hundredth part of what is needed”. She is directly affected: she pays out-of-pocket for her son’s speech training. “We spend 700 euros a month, because each session is worth 40 euros. If a child has autism, he’ll need daily therapy”.

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