5/29 - Latest in Autism News

Millcreek Township Agency Helps Adults, Teens with Autism

Dan Pietrasiewicz seemed lost.

The Erie man was in his early 20s, living in his father's basement. He played video games all night, slept most of the day, and had trouble finding a job or making friends.

Doctors had diagnosed him at different times with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder, but Pietrasiewicz said the medications they prescribed didn't help him.

"I spent six years in the basement, not doing much," said Pietrasiewicz, who is now 29. "I didn't have friends, no girlfriend and no job."

Pietrasiewicz was frustrated. He searched online to discover what really was bothering him, and he discovered in 2008 that he probably had Asperger syndrome, a mild form of autism spectrum disorder.

That self-diagnosis led to an equally important discovery. He found Kaleidascope, a Millcreek Township agency that provides counseling and other services for adults and children with autism.

He contacted the agency and made an appointment to see its founder and clinical director, Janet Pawlowski.

"When I met Dan, he was very depressed," said Pawlowski, who helped Pietrasiewicz confirm he had autism. "He had no sense of day or night, and his parents were frustrated with him."

Pietrasiewicz had gone to the right place. Kaleidascope, 4934 Peach St., is one of the few places in northwestern Pennsylvania that treats adults with autism.

Pawlowski, a licensed psychologist, helped create Kaleidascope in 2005. She had discovered there were few local resources for adults with autism because the state usually covers autism services only until a patient turns 21.

"It's not like autism goes away at that point," Pawlowski said.

But Pietrasiewicz was fortunate. Pawlowski helped him apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for an adult autism waiver, which pays for long-term services and support for adults with autism.

Pietrasiewicz is one of only 600 Pennsylvanians with autism who has been granted a waiver. It covers his treatment costs.

In addition to regular therapy sessions with Pawlowski, he also was assigned a community inclusion worker. This person helps Pietrasiewicz with tasks of everyday living like shopping at a grocery store.

"He makes sure I don't go over a set amount of money or go over a set amount of time," said Pietrasiewicz, who no longer takes any medications for ADHD or bipolar disorder.

The improvement Pawlowski has seen over the past seven years has astounded her.

Pietrasiewicz enrolled at Mercyhurst University, and with the help of the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst program, graduated earlier this month with a degree in computer studies. He said he has recently received a job offer from a U.S. Department of Defense contractor.

"I have a beautiful girlfriend and a lot of friends," Pietrasiewicz said with a big smile. "I'm also moving into an apartment."

Casey Ireson, like Pietrasiewicz, also has plans for his future, thanks to Kaleidascope. The 17-year-old Fairview Township boy has been meeting with Pawlowski and attending youth group sessions at Kaleidascope since shortly after he was diagnosed with autism at age 6.

He is expected to graduate Fairview High School on June 4 and plans to attend Gannon University in August to study environmental engineering.

Ireson credited Kaleidascope with helping him learn the social skills he needed to enjoy being a teenager and succeed at school.

"I wouldn't have made the friends I have -- and had such a good time -- without learning those social skills," Ireson said.

Pawlowski helped him plan ways to cope with various social situations he came across in school, such as instances of bullying.

She also found ways to help Ireson deal with his sensitivity to loud sounds and uncomfortable textures.

"I even went to prom this year," Ireson said. "The game plan was that if it got too loud, I would call Mom and she would pick me up. I made it 40 minutes."

Ireson and Pietrasiewicz both feel good about their futures, and they credit Pawlowski and the staff at Kaleidascope for their success.

Pietrasiewicz doesn't know if he will take the job offer he has received, but he is thrilled to have received it.

"When I first came here, I was just looking to get some skills to make friends," Pietrasiewicz said.

May 27, 2015, Erie Times-News,  David Bruce