Why the Travoltas shouldn't be forced to be the face of autism
Tue Jan 6 2009
I'm probably the wrong person to be writing about the death of John Travolta's son Jett because even though I have a son with autism, I couldn't care less about celebrity autism. The Travoltas never acknowledged their son's autism. Instead, they blamed his issues and the seizure that killed him on Kawasaki disease. So I'm not sure whether to think of them as a family living with autism at all. Then again, the celebs who acknowledge their kids' autism also leave me cold. I loathe Jenny McCarthy for claiming to have cured her son. If it were easy enough for an ex-MTV star to do, wouldn't we all follow suit? It's not the Travoltas' job to be the public face of a family living with autism. Whatever their reasons for not coming forward, religious or otherwise, it's okay with me, and I wish it were okay with everyone else. I'm finding the media swirl of doubt and suspicion a little more distasteful than usual, in part because when I look at those pictures of Jett, I feel my own swirl of emotions. First, I see a very handsome boy with a remarkable resemblance to his famous dad. Second, I see a boy who clearly has a degree of developmental disability. (Both traits put me in mind of my own son, who also has some history of seizures.) Certain details about Jett's life make it impossible for me not to flash-forward five years into my son's life and think of him at age 16, still with a nanny of sorts, a boy who can't be left alone for long periods of time. It's icky to think that pictures of celebrity family life pluck at your heartstrings (your love for your children, your concerns for their future) but there you have it. I'm unable to look at those pictures without thinking of my family, my son's luminous smile and the happiness he feels when he is with us. It's not the image of John Travolta smiling at his son that I find so moving. Not to be too blunt, but Travolta is an actor, and a good one. I have every confidence that he can pose next to a child and project whatever emotion he wants to. What doesn't lie is the face of a boy who loved his father so powerfully that it shines out of every image like a blaze of sunlight. And that is why I find myself choked up and sad for the Travolta family. Because I also know that a child with autism mirrors the love he's been shown. It's very hard to lie to autistic kids. If Travolta had been an absent, neglectful father, it's unlikely Jett would have beamed at him like that. Jett's love for his father was the reflection of his father's love for him.