Merrick Herald Life Person of the Year: Michael Giangregorio

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Giangregorio’s first thought after his son’s diagnosis was to make sure he received the best possible treatment, to ensure that he had the optimal chance of living as normal a life as possible. He attended autism conferences, and read everything he could find about the disability, of which, up until then, he had little knowledge.

In his research, he discovered a treatment known as applied behavior analysis, in which therapists assess a child’s strengths and weaknesses and develop a comprehensive treatment plan. Data about a child’s progress, or lack thereof, in learning new behaviors are recorded in daily logs to find the right rewards that might stimulate the child.

For example, when learning to sit in a chair, a child with autism might be motivated to learn the behavior through hugs or, perhaps, M&Ms, Thivierge said. It is a labor-intensive and time-consuming process, meaning it is costly.

Michael and his wife, Alison, spent more than $80,000 on treatments for their son, borrowing substantial sums to supplement Nicholas’s education. “Home equity loans, 401(k) loans –– I’ve experienced all of that,” he said.

Enter Fuschillo, who helped Giangregorio lobby Albany to require New York-based insurance companies to fund autism treatments. The Legislature passed, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed, a measure in 2011. It was a “great day” for New York, Fuschillo said.

“For years, families have fought for access to treatment coverage for their loved ones,” Fuschillo said. “This new law will afford individuals with autism the opportunity to receive treatments and therapies they need without being forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket every year. I thank Governor Cuomo for signing this law, which will dramatically improve the lives of every New York family affected by autism.”

According to a 2012 study by the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Economics, the lifetime cost of treating a person with autism is estimated at $2.3 million, which few families can afford.

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