A year and a half after he was born, Michael Giangregorio’s son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with a developmental disability that, for his father, was at once terrifying, mind-numbing and life-altering.
Nicholas, Michael was told, had a severe form of autism.
Nicholas is now 12. He has never spoken, and communicates through a hand-held device that allows him to express basic emotions and wants with icons.
Michael, who is now 48, had a choice, he said, after Nicholas’s diagnosis. He could wallow in despair, or he could accept his son’s condition and not only live with it, but also embrace a new life within the “autism community.” He chose the latter, which has brought its challenges, for sure, but also great satisfaction and joy.
Giangregorio has become an autism advocate of the first order, lobbying in the New York State Legislature and in Congress to help transform a social-services system that, only a decade ago, largely ignored parents of children with autism. With the support of state Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr., of Merrick, and Assemblyman David McDonough, of North Merrick, Giangregorio successfully lobbied the Legislature to pass a law requiring insurance companies with offices in New York to cover autism treatments for children –– treatments that can make the difference between a life of isolation and one of engagement with the wider community.
Giangregorio “is the most selfless and most diplomatic person I’ve ever met,” said Debra Thivierge, executive director and founder of the Elija School of Long Island, which is based in Levittown and for which Giangregorio serves as board president. “He’s done so much. He is such a good friend to so many people.”
A vice president of JPMorgan Chase, Giangregorio is a consummate fundraiser. He is co-chairman of Long Island Walk Now for Autism, sponsored by the nonprofit Autism Speaks organization at Jones Beach each October. The walk attracts more than 30,000 people, and this year it raised $1.5 million for Autism Speaks. It is among the advocacy group’s largest walks.
For all this and much more, the Herald Life proudly names Michael Giangregorio its 2013 Person of the Year.
Changing minds and laws