On the Autism Warpath

When her son received an autism diagnosis, actress Jenny McCarthy went into 'warrior mode' to save her child--and other kids.

BY: Interview by Dilshad D. Ali

 

Sex symbol, comedic actress, best-selling author--Jenny McCarthy was a multi-hyphenate before the term came into vogue. From her stint as a Playboy Playmate to hosting MTV’s "Singled Out," to appearing in films like "Scream 3" and the newly released comedy "Witless Protection," McCarthy is an expert at doing anything for a laugh. But her life changed radically when her son Evan was diagnosed with autism just as McCarthy was launching the press tour for her second book, "Baby Laughs: The Naked Truth About the First Year of Mommyhood." While promoting the book nationwide, McCarthy waged a fierce battle at home to pull Evan out of autism, a complex developmental disability affecting one out of 150 children. She chronicles her struggles in her latest book, "Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism," and spoke with Beliefnet on dealing with guilt, having faith in recovery, and praying for her son to do "what typical kids do when they're older...go out with his friends and make out with his girlfriend."

Listen to Jenny McCarthy:

Warrior Mother Deals with Guilt
Stepping Away from Autism
How to Fight Autism
Trust the Path that You're On
Why Faith Is Everything
Moms, Take Back Your Power


What motivated you to write your book? You've never been a shrinking violet. But at the same time, celebrities rarely want to air their problems at home.

When I started to become an author, I always thought to myself, "Is this it? Am I supposed to be just a fun kind of author of mommy and parenting and baby stuff?" And then, when autism hit my life, I realized how perfect the universe is and how really I became an author so I can get moms' attention--so they can listen to my message. It is a book I was destined to write.

There's a line in your book about how people don't realize that celebrities, too, have problems with their kids. Was it difficult to reveal that to everyone?

I've never really been shy of admitting to being vulnerable. But I had to cover it up during the time that my child was first diagnosed because I was going out on press tour for my book "Baby Laughs," to talk about my baby and try to sell a comedy book.

There must be a sort of great relief to be able to talk and be so open now.

To be my authentic self--I don't have to be funny right now. I can just tell my story, and the journey, and share it and help. It's what makes being exhausted okay.

You went through a bad time in the beginning with your son being ill and the doctors not understanding. What propelled you to keep fighting?

Things weren't making sense. I kept asking questions, like, "If he's having seizures, why? And why are they 20 minutes long?" Epileptic seizures are one minute, two minute. Why are [my son's] 20 minutes? Why is the next one going to cardiac arrest? That is not typical. [The doctors] were just giving me the sole label of epilepsy. But there's something else, I kept saying. I was on the quest for unanswered questions.

Parents of autistic children go through such guilt issues. What's the way to get over that?

Warrior Mother Deals with Guilt
That’s such a big problem. When Evan was diagnosed, I immediately went into warrior mode. I cried and stuff, but I went into this, "Okay, I can't deal with my emotions right now. I have to save my kid. I have to move forward." I put the guilt in a little secret container way deep inside me. And I went along, and it got me through a long time, because I got my kid better. I got into a relationship. I fell in love. I wrote a book. And just as I was about to start this press tour, I started having full-blown panic attacks.

I called my therapist and said, "I haven't seen you in two-and-a-half years, and I need to know why I'm having anxiety attacks, like full-blown heart palpitations." And she said something that made me think, "Whoa." She said, "You still feel guilty for giving your son autism."

And that's where my guilt was coming from. I fell to the floor, because all along I kept going, "Oh, you know, it's these pediatricians, the government, the vaccines, blah, blah, blah." And really, underneath all of that anger, it's the little mom that went, "I feel responsible. I'm sorry, Evan." I felt guilty, and I had to let it out.

Continued on page 2: Is enough being done about autism? Hell, no. »

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