Troubled Future For Young Adults On Autism Spectrum

Michael Moscariello, 32, looks out through the front door of his Cambridge apartment complex. Michael is on the autism spectrum, as is his younger brother, Jonathan. “[My sons are] the pioneer generation” for children on the spectrum, their father, Pete Moscariello, says. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Michael Moscariello, 32, looks out through the front door of his Cambridge apartment complex. Michael is on the autism spectrum, as is his younger brother, Jonathan. “[My sons are] the pioneer generation” for children on the spectrum, their father, Pete Moscariello, says. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“Mom, Dad, what’s wrong with me?”

Michael Moscariello was a smart, thoughtful 10-year-old when that question burst out one evening before dinner.

He knew from kids at his school in Reading that something was not right. His parents knew too; they had a diagnosis. But it was a condition that almost no one had heard of — not doctors or teachers, and certainly not friends or family.

That night, Michael’s parents used a classic diversion tactic. “Nothing’s wrong, nothing’s wrong, everything’s fine,” Michael remembers them saying. “Do you want to get pizza?”

May Moscariello, Michael’s mom, had taken him to Franciscan Hospital for Children in Boston three years earlier, in 1988. “They evaluated him and came up with Asperger’s syndrome. It was their first case,” May says. She remembers a doctor telling her that Asperger’s was a hot topic in London at the time. The doctors “gave me a lot of written material from England,” she says. “None of it mentioned autism.”

Today, Asperger’s is folded into the broad diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This includes people like Michael who are bright and articulate, but can’t understand the look that says, I’m serious, or that hint of sarcasm in a friend’s response, or why people back away during a conversation. One in 68 children in America has an autism spectrum disorder.

Michael, now 32, is on the spectrum, as is his younger brother, Jonathan, 29, who has a sort of catchall diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Their lives, as adults with autism, raise troubling questions about whether the flood of children receiving this diagnosis will find meaningful work, safe housing and networks that will help them become happy and productive adults.

“[My sons are] the pioneer generation” for children on the autism spectrum, Pete Moscariello says.  Continue reading

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