Like other parents of children with autism, I reacted with both sadness and puzzlement to the death earlier this year of John Travolta's 16-year-old son, Jett, as the family vacationed in the Bahamas. Sadness, obviously, because a family had lost a child; puzzlement, because the Travoltas' denials that Jett was autistic -- though it seemed obvious that he was -- persisted even after the boy died.
Today, just as John Travolta's biggest movie in years hits screens across the nation, we learn that apparently he did acknowledge his son's autism. The National Enquirer has dug up a Bahamian police report indicating the actor told authorities "Jett suffered from a seizure disorder and was autistic." Before Jett's death, Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, had said he suffered from a rare condition called Kawasaki disease, as well as exposure to environmental toxins from carpet cleaning chemicals. It's been assumed Jett's parents didn't acknowledge the possibility of autism because of their strict belief in Scientology, which denies the existence of autism.
So why would John Travolta tell authorities his son was autistic, but not anyone else? One theory is that is that he would have faced prosecution for denying that Jett had a known medical condition. Others see it as an illustration of Scientology's flaws and absurdities. But as a fellow parent of a child with autism, I see it as the understandable confusion of a parent who, famous or not, has to wrestle like the rest of us with why this cruel and mysterious condition was brought into our lives. Whether it's denied because of a religious belief, or some other reason, it's understandable. I would only say to the Travolta's that perhaps today's news that there was at least some acknowledgment by them that their son was autistic, will convince them to come all the way over into the autism community. We need powerful voices to fight for these children. John Travolta's longstanding refusal to use the "A-word" doesn't make him ineligible to join our fight. It makes him perfect for the job.
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"The Travolta Tragedy and Autism"
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