Tampa mom Julianette Cartagena says it’s been difficult to find good resources for her son, who has autism.

“A school for autistic children you don’t find in [my] area, and it’s difficult for me to go far,” she said.  

Now, they won’t have to.

What You Need To Know

  • Thirty families are enrolling at bilingual Tampa Bay Autism Center

  • The program will launch in August

  • CDC says autism often goes undiagnosed in the Hispanic community

They’re one of 30 families enrolling at Tampa Bay Autism Center, a bilingual charter school inside Iglesia Tampa Bay’s campus on Nebraska Avenue.

It’s a passion project for clinical director Adelene Soto, who felt called to launch the program after seeing a lack of resources in the Hispanic community.

Language barriers make things even harder.

“Seeing the need from my patient families, and then also having access to the academy here, I just saw that this is something that is really needed and certainly something within our reach,” Soto said.

The CDC says autism goes undiagnosed more often in the Hispanic community due to barriers like lack of knowledge or understanding the medical system.

Additionally, getting into programs like these — much less one that offers resources in multiple languages — often comes with a lengthy wait list.

“There’s a shortage of this, and we’re hoping to be able to reach out to the Hispanic community, to all the communities who don’t speak English, and trying to create a center where they can get that help and have resources for them,” behavior analyst Misael Soto said.

The program launches in August and will be fully inclusive.

“To be able to branch out in a different direction and fulfill a need that I know is out there, I’m really excited,” Adelene Soto said.

Parents like Cartagena share the same excitement, in what she hopes will change the lives of bilingual families in Tampa.

“I’m very happy the program is going to open, and we’re going to see how everything goes in the school year,” she said.

The school is currently accepting applications for enrollment, and parents of children with autism are encouraged to see if it’s the right fit for their child.

Scholarship money is also available for families who qualify.