Photo: Tom Murro
Every once in a while I actually get to write about something important in this celebrity nonsense world we live in.
The Real Housewives of New Jersey's Jacqueline and Chris Laurita recently announced that their son Nicholas has autism. Jacqueline was kind enough to answer a few of my questions and share some advice with other parents regarding his diagnosis.
Q: Were you afraid to tell the general public?
Jacqueline: I was never afraid to tell anybody. I don't feel it's anything to be ashamed of. My son is a beautiful, smart, happy, loving boy who just happens to have autism. He brings us joy everyday. He's adorable and a we consider him a blessing.
Q: How did your co-stars respond? Did they know about his diagnosis before you went public with it? Did they offer any support?
Jacqueline: All of our friends and family knew there was an issue before we got the actually diagnosis. We decided not to publicize it on the show until we had an actual diagnosis and a treatment plan in place. Bravo knew as well, and respected our decision to wait on airing it until we felt comfortable. I felt like it was one thing to show my life, but my son didn't sign up for this. Once we got the diagnosis and treatment plan in place we realized that by putting it out there, it would not only help our son by the amount of support and resources given to us, but we could also bring awareness to autism and help other people that can relate to us. We just wanted to control the way it came out. That's why we chose to go to People magazine. We knew they would do a great job telling our story.
All of my cast members knew there was an issue prior to the actual diagnosis and most were very supportive with encouraging kind words and offering us different resources to help. Since the actual diagnosis, and the article in People magazine, all of my cast mates have reached out to us for support except for Teresa, but that was to be expected.
Q: How have you changed as a parent since his diagnosis?
Jacqueline: We parent Nicholas with lots of love, hugs, kisses and praises. I am very hands on. I do a lot of flashcard work with him. What we did change was his diet. He's on a gluten free/casein free diet with other supplements to make sure my picky eater is getting the right amount of nutrition. It's a hard diet to follow, because you can't cheat on it at all or it can set him back months. You learn to read labels. Finding good gluten free food that he will eat is difficult. The diet is worth it. We have seen positive changes in him.
Q: What type of treatments is Nicholas getting?
Jacqueline: He gets home ABA therapy 5 days a week. He has made progress already. They work on speech and language, behavioral, motor skills, etc. He starts preschool next week in a special services room with an IEP program set in place. We have been looking into other options for treatments that could help him as well. I've done a ton of research and I take notes. I have binders full of information on autism. He will be starting music therapy soon. I'm also looking into gymnastics because I think that could be good for building his muscle tone.
Q: How much support have your fans given you? Their comments?
Jacqueline: Since the article came out, we have received thousands of letters, emails, texts, tweets, and FB messages from people reaching out to support us and offer us advice and resources. So many have openly shared their stories with us. It's been so overwhelming in a good way. We are so grateful and we are looking into each and every tip we get. You never know what will be the missing piece to our sons recovery. We are very optimistic about it.
Q. How is Chris handling it all?
Jacqueline: Chris has been great. He prays for Nick's recovery every day. Chris is very loving with him and loves to tickle him to make him laugh. In the beginning, I think he was in a little bit of denial and hoping it would be something he would outgrow. Once he realized Nick was on the Autism spectrum, he has done everything he can to help him to recover. We support each other and research all avenues for help for him together.
Q: Are you going to become more vocal about autism issues, charity work etc?
Jacqueline: I've done a lot of charity work for autism in the past but I've been more quiet about it. Now that it's out there, you will be seeing and hearing a lot more from me in the autism community. Whatever it is that I learn from this experience, I will teach others. As much as I want to learn from others, I want to help others as much as I can.
Q: Do you have any advice for other parents?
Jacqueline: My advice to other parents are to check your child's developmental milestones. I went on www.Autismspeaks.com and did their autism checklist as well. Early Intervention is key! Start with a GF/CF diet, get them on a good supplement plan, Check for food allergies. Find a good developmental pediatrician and a DAN (Defeat Autism Now) doctor. Research all of your options. Reach out to others for support. Stay positive! Be patient. Don't forget your date nights!