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'An amazing journey' of mother and son As radio hosts, they're going on the road to show reality of autism

Monica Moshenko of Clarence has her own twice-a-week radio program, a show on disabilities that has featured interviews with actors Henry Winkler and Teri Garr and Lt. Gov.-elect David A. Paterson.

Not to be outdone, her son, Alex, 13, has his own radio show, "Al's Wrestling Talk," which airs live on the Internet every Saturday night.

This is a high-powered tandem -- a mother who has become a passionate advocate for the disabled and a teen with a very high-functioning form of autism.

The Moshenkos plan to take their radio shows on the road for the coming year, touring America in a recreational vehicle.

The goal is to meet and greet people with disabilities, raise the public's awareness about the disabled -- and perhaps catch a few wrestling matches along the way.

"It's going to be an amazing journey of a mother and her son," Monica Moshenko said. "He has brought me into a new world I didn't know about before. I can't let it go. I'm so passionate about raising awareness about people with disabilities. I'll stop when people listen and when changes are made."

Moshenko hopes the journey will be captured in documentary form.

"What I haven't seen is talking to people about disabilities in their communities," she said. "Like how they receive services and the discrepancy in services. I also want to get a pulse on America and the largest minority in America -- people with disabilities."

Alex has Asperger syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. Asperger's is characterized by difficulty in forming friendships; intense absorption in a special interest; difficulty in understanding social cues, such as sarcasm and tone of voice; and oversensitivity to sound, light and some foods.

Asperger's is on the high end of the broad autism spectrum. While roughly half the children with autism are nonverbal, Alex was an honor-roll student who once questioned Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton during a health care conference.

Alex told the New York senator that he was speaking for children with autism who can't.

"Alex is a success story in so many ways, not only academically, but socially," his mother said. "How many kids have their own radio show? How many kids could stand up and ask a question of Sen. Clinton?"

A kid with autism hosting his own radio show?

That speaks to the broad spectrum of autism, a disability now diagnosed in 1 of every 166 children, autism advocates say.

"You have 6- and 7-year-old kids who are wearing diapers, and you have kids who have to be watched constantly, because they run away," said Kathy Eiss, local president of the Autism Society of America. "They have no safety awareness."

In school, some children with autism are in a 6-1-1 class: six pupils, a teacher and an aide, said Tracy Panzarella, clinical services director for Autistic Services.

"On the other end of the spectrum, you have college professors with Asperger's," she added.

Alex, who sits on the high end of that spectrum, is following in his mother's footsteps as an advocate for people with autism.

"It's been kind of like a dream come true for me, to go out there and show people that I have a lot of knowledge for a kid with disabilities," the personable Alex said of his show.

He's also looking forward to taking that show on the road, to let other people see firsthand what he can do. The Moshenkos plan to leave town early in the year; while still seeking sponsors to help finance their trip, they're willing to sell their Clarence home if they have to.

"I'm trying to say that I'm out here," Alex said. "I have a disability. So what? I've gone through that, and now I'm an accepted person in society. I want to show off my talents that got me through a lot."

Alex's problems became evident by the time he was 4. Fireworks would send him to the floor, in tears. His mother had to keep him in a stroller in the mall; otherwise, he would "lose it." He'd only play with certain toys. He would watch a Disney movie over and over and over again. And he was a slave to his daily schedule.

Even a few months ago, Alex sobbed uncontrollably when he saw a frozen dog -- in a cartoon.

"I'm kind of like a robot -- a robot with a soul," he says.

Alex was in a 6-1-1 class in kindergarten. In elementary school, in both Williamsville and Clarence, he was in a regular class with a full-time aide and a lot of speech and occupational therapy.

But in his middle school years in Clarence, a lot of bullying and his own anxiety in a large school led to his being home-schooled now.

His mother didn't hesitate in becoming a forceful advocate. She started a Power Advocates Web site, with special-education information, about five or six years ago. She organized two big conferences on autism. And she set up an autism walk in 2002.

Two years ago, she started her radio program, "Disability News and Views," which started on WXRL and later moved to the Internet. It's available at www.disabilitynewsradio.com.

"Why did I do it?" she asked. "I said Buffalo is behind in autism [awareness]. I wanted people to understand this invisible world these kids live in, especially Asperger's.

"What Alex taught me is to reach for it, to make it personal."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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