Commentary: Gardiner Scholarship provides crucial support for children with special needs

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Gardiner Scholarship

Florida Gov. DeSantis, flanked by Andy and Camille Gardiner and their son Andrew, reiterated in February his pledge to end the waitlist for special needs children who have qualified for a state-funded Gardiner Scholarship.

Editor’s note: In this commentary, published Sept. 11 in the Naples Daily News, the mother of a child with autism tells of her family’s decision to leave their home in Puerto Rico for the mainland so she and her husband could get better jobs and their son, Omar, could get the educational instruction he needed. Shortly after arriving in Naples, the couple learned about the Gardiner Scholarship for children with special needs, which allowed them to enroll Omar in the Montessori Academy of Naples.

Arely Burgos and her son, Omar

More than two years ago, my husband and I left our native Puerto Rico because we were searching for better opportunities for our young son, Omar, who is on the autism spectrum.

We found them in Naples, thanks in large part to Florida’s Gardiner Scholarship for children with special needs.

The Gardiner Scholarship, created in 2014, serves students with autism, Down syndrome, spina bifida and other special needs, regardless of their family’s income. Although the scholarship amount varies by county and grade level, the average amount for most students this school year is $10,400. That money can be spent on private school tuition, therapists, specialists, curriculum, and technology. The program will benefit more than 13,000 students this school year.

Unfortunately, there are 4,000 more on a waiting list for scholarships. They deserve to experience the kind of relief Gardiner brought us.

Omar was diagnosed with autism when he was 1-1/2 years old. Now 5, he’s intellectually very high above his age. He reads and writes, and he understands Spanish and English. However, he struggles with comprehension. For example, if he falls down and gets hurt he can’t describe his pain. He requires occupational and speech therapy on a weekly basis.

Read more here.

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