For those of you who don't know me, I'm one of the original cast members of Bravo's hit reality television series The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
I signed on to this show back in 2008 without taking into consideration
how much my life could change. I never stopped to think that there
would be a greater purpose to it. You see, my 3-year-old son, Nicholas,
has autism. We kept it under wraps until we could figure out what was
wrong, and what we were going to do about it, but that time has come.
Honestly, I'm glad it's out there. I don't think people
should be afraid or ashamed to share their struggles. When you open up,
you often find that it's the support and generosity of others that can
provide the strength and tools you need to get through it. Ever since my
husband, Chris, and I went public about our son's diagnosis in People
magazine, the support has been overwhelming. Thousands of you have
reached out to us with knowledge, resources, and success stories. Our
family faces many challenges, just like any other family. Right now, one
of our greatest happens to be helping Nicholas recover from
autism—because I believe it's possible. Maybe not all children will
recover, but many have, and all of us parents with a child on the
spectrum should be given that hope.
How It All Started
It was such a gradual regression with our son. Nicholas
has a cousin, Joey, who is two weeks younger. It was hard not to notice
that Nicholas was not meeting the developmental milestones at the same
rate as his cousin. Joey walked and talked earlier than Nicholas, and
seemed more in tune with his environment and the people in it.
Meanwhile, Nicholas enjoyed playing by himself, and seemed content in
his own little world. However, Nicholas was doing some things that Joey
could not. He knew his letters and their sounds. He could count up to
20, and identify his shapes and colors. He was a whiz on the iPad.
Signs of regression became too clear to ignore when he was around 2 years old, shortly after we started filming season four of RHONJ.
He stopped singing his favorite songs, using utensils, and following my
finger as I pointed to an object. Eye contact and language slowly
diminished. He wouldn't answer to his name. When Nicholas stopped saying
“I love you,” it was devastating. As a mom, when your child starts to
talk, hearing those three little words is something you cherish. Losing
that broke my heart.
There was a three-month waiting period to see the
developmental pediatrician. We arrived at her office already assuming
that our child had autism. But after watching the doctor play with
Nicholas for over an hour, there was a part of me hoping to hear I was
Nothing prepared us for the pain of hearing a professional
say “Your child has autism.” Seeing the diagnosis written down on a
piece of paper in front of our faces hit us hard. I got a lump in my
throat, and found it hard to swallow. I could see the pain on my
husband's face. The pediatrician gave us information on treatment
options, and recreational activities for kids on the spectrum.
I went home, hugged my husband, and cried until I couldn't
cry anymore. I cried for myself; I cried for my husband; I cried for my
other kids, and I cried for my Nicholas. After that one-day grieving
period, I woke up the next morning focused on bringing out the best
Nicholas that he could be. I began reading everything I could find on
autism. We learned that early intervention is key to recovery. We
learned that diet and nutrition play an important role. We learned that
my husband and I would have to work together to be our son's greatest
Some of you may wonder why we would be so open about our
son's disorder, maybe thinking that we should have kept it hidden—but we
feel strongly that autism is not a shameful secret. Nicholas is our
son, and we are proud of him. We are not ashamed of him or the
diagnosis. We don't ever want him to feel ashamed, either. My son is a
beautiful little boy who is very smart and loving. Autism is one small
piece of who he is.
I often wonder what led me to this life as a reality TV
personality in a seemingly meaningless, drama-filled series. I didn't
know it would be a platform to help others. Whether you have a child
with autism, some other disability, or none at all, we all need support.
I hope you will follow us on our journey in this new Parenting column, and I hope you'll let me follow yours.