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Why I Don't Care If You Love or Hate Jenny McCarthy

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When my son was diagnosed, I knew little about autism. I knew the autism markers — doesn’t answer to his name, doesn’t point, doesn’t babble, loss of skills, poor eye contact. You know the list. I knew those things because he presented 90 percent of them. By the time the diagnosis came, I knew it was probably autism but had no clue what that diagnosis really meant.

I remember the developmental pediatrician saying, “You were right, Mom. He is somewhere on the autism spectrum.” She didn’t look up much, wrote a lot and almost as quickly as the appointment started, it was over. She gave me a results print out, a parent disclosure of all the testing and evaluations, and that was about it. She sucked all the air out of the room, and then poof — she was gone.

I’ll skip over the hyperventilating and crying that happened in the parking garage — me outside the car, him inside, blissfully unaware of my complete devastation. Yes, initially, I was broken over autism. I had no idea what I was going to do with this child. No direction and the worst images in my head. My depression was intense, and I felt so lost. I knew I couldn’t stay there. As a friend said the other night, “I couldn’t unpack in the grief stage.”

Instead, I went to the university. Meaning, I went to Google. I googled a cure for autism. “I have to help him,” I thought, “I have to cure him. I can’t just let him slip away from me. This kid is my heartbeat. He’s everything good, my whole life. I can’t just let this happen.” Of course Jenny McCarthy popped up. Of course she did. While many people in this community hate her, I don’t. I don’t hate anyone. While I don’t agree with everything she supports, says and does, I learned about diet intervention, the beginning of gut health and some other useful things from her. In the beginning, I was glad to find her.

As we moved through the early years of our journey, I researched a lot more. I spent hours reading, deciding, comparing and rethinking. I was extensive in my research, and I implemented interventions I felt would be beneficial for my son. He went gluten-free, casein-free, soy-free and eventually grain-free. We added vitamins, minerals, probiotics and fish oil. Natural things to improve his health. We saw improvements, and if we didn’t — we discontinued the intervention. Fairly quickly, I moved away from the idea of “I have to cure him.” For me, it wasn’t about a cure anymore. It was about health, quality of life, happiness and enjoying the journey.

It was a time of growth, not only for him but for me. I learned to accept a lot — from him, from myself, from this community. The community taught me lessons you can only learn the hard way. In turn, I tried to become a member of the autism community I wanted to meet. Why? Because it’s important, needed, and while we don’t have to agree, we can be a supportive community.

So, when I say gluten-free/casein-free improved my autistic son’s health — I’m not saying it’s for all people with autism. It works for my kid.

When I speak about vaccines, I’m not advocating for or against vaccinations. I’m telling you my personal experience with them.

When I speak about applied behavioral analysis (ABA), it doesn’t mean I’m only about curbing behaviors. It means done intelligently, compassionately and with a full team, I’ve seen it help some children with autism. I respect my son, his feelings, his needs.

So many issues become a battle zone for parents. It doesn’t have to be that way. I can respect you without agreeing with you. Compassion for one another, empathy and support without harsh judgment are some of the most important things we can give to one another. Every journey is different and requires a different approach. While our journey and views may be on opposite ends of the spectrum, we’re still part of this community — the autism community.

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Originally published: January 30, 2015
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