08/22/2012 11:57 am ET

Jacqueline Laurita, 'Real Housewives Of New Jersey' Star, Opens Up About Son's Autism

"Real Housewives of New Jersey" nice person Jacqueline Laurita's gripes with daughter Ashlee have been well-documented on the hit Bravo show. But 3-year-old son Nicholas, Laurita's son with husband (and Manzo clan member) Chris, has rarely appeared on camera, for reasons we assumed had to do with his young age. Now Laurita is opening up about a secret the show's producers have kept entirely off-camera: Nicholas has autism.

"We had no idea what was going on," Laurita, 42, told People magazine. "I worry about him being independent when he's older… I spend all my time researching what we can do for him."

Symptoms of the disorder started appearing around 18 months after Nicholas was born, according to Laurita, including increasingly impaired speech and motor skills. Nicholas was diagnosed during the taping of Season 4, which is currently airing. Autism spectrum disorders affect around 1.5 million people in the U.S., or approximately 1 in 88 children.

"You never want to think your child isn't perfectly healthy. We didn't want to believe it was true," husband Chris said.

For more on Laurita's family, click through to People.com.

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