What’s been amazing in the age of social media is how open some celebrities are about their personal lives. It’s obviously a choice to let fans in, but many stars are helping to bring to awareness for good causes by talking about their families and some of the struggles they may face. When Hollywood opens up about raising celebrity kids with disabilities, they can bring more money to research and help de-stigmatize what it means to deal with these challenges.
Sylvester Stallone was one of the first major Hollywood actors to go on record to talk about his son, Seargeoh Stallone. He didn’t shy away from the news and filmed a PSA in 1990 where he declared, “Imagine your child has autism; mine does.” In 2021, that doesn’t seem like breaking news, but 31 years ago, it was a big deal.
Stallone helped pave the way for former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Denise Richards to share her journey with adopted daughter Eloise, who turned 11 on May 25. Eloise has a chromosomal disorder, which has led to developmental delays, but that hasn’t stopped Richards from seeking the best treatment possible for her youngest daughter. “Every child is different,” she told People in 2020. “You take care of your children no matter what is going on with them.”
Her words of inspiration help other parents (famous or not) keep on going on those tough days because everyone wants the best life for their child. Find out which stars have shared their family’s story about raising a child with a disability — some of the names might surprise you!
Grey’s Anatomy star Caterina Scorsone is a mom to three girls — Eliza, 10 Pippa, 6, and Arwen, 3 — who she shares with ex-husband Rob Giles. Pippa has Down syndrome, and she was initially fearful of the diagnosis before she realized there is no “standard, objective perfect human being.”
“The metrics of perfection are arbitrary and imposed in the service of those who fit them,” Caterina told PEOPLE. “My daughter is perfect. Exactly the way she is.”
The diagnosis also taught her the overwhelming value of community.
“Parents of other kids with special needs became like instant family,” she toldParents.“It’s in moments of vulnerability that we either become insular or accept that we need others.”
Neil Young has two sons — Zeke, 50 and Ben, 45 — both of whom have cerebral palsy. Ben is also quadriplegic and nonverbal. Young has said CP is not a disease, but a “condition of life.”
“A lot of the things that we take for granted, that we can do, [Ben] can’t do,” the singer toldRolling Stone. “But his soul is there, and I’m sure that he has an outlook on the world that we don’t have because of the disabilities.”
Young understandably wondered why both sons were born with the same condition. Since each has a different mother — Carrie Snodgrass and Pegi Norton, respectively — Young consulted with doctors to see if it was something about himself that caused the “condition of life,” but they said it was merely a fluke.
“[Peggy and I] have been dealing with it, and we’ve learned to turn it around into a positive thing and to keep on going.”
“Ben has taught me you never give up,” he said when Ben was a child. “You can’t say ‘This is too hard.’ It can’t be too hard. There are so many kids with challenges that are so great and yet they just keep trying. So if I come up against something that’s hard to deal with, I can handle it and it’s because of him.”
Young’s third child, Amber, 39 has epilepsy, a seizure disorder which Young also suffers from.
During a conversation about his movie, The Whale, with Freddie Prinze Jr. for Interview Magazine, Brendan Fraser shared, “My oldest son Griffin has special needs. He’s autistic. He just turned 20. He’s a big kid. He’s six foot five. He’s got big hands and feet, a big body. I understand intimately what it is to be close to a person who lives with obesity.”
He continued, “And because of the beauty of his spectrum — call it a disorder if you will, I disagree with you — he knows nothing of irony. He doesn’t know what cynicism is. You can’t insult him. He can’t insult you. He’s the happiest person and is, in my life and many others’, also the manifestation of love. Being with my kids and their mom and our family has given me such love that if ever I needed to hold something of value up to try and translate that to what was important to [my character in the film] Charlie, I didn’t have to look far.”
Fraser makes it a point to extend the care he gives to his son Griffin to other people on the spectrum. In an interview with Howard Stern, Fraser said he can “clock [a person] from across a convention room hall” and know they have autism.See AlsoHollywood Invades Chicago: Band From TV Visits the Windy City for CharityJ.J. Abrams, Disney shooting in, around AlbuquerqueGreg Grunberg - Cuevana 3J.J. Abrams, Disney shooting in, around Albuquerque
“No matter all of the noise surrounding the hysteria that goes into the whole celebrity bullsh*t, I always, always stop the train to have a moment with them.”
He also talked about how he first handled Griffin’s diagnosis, the ways in which you have to advocate for a child with special needs, and, after Stern asked, what will happen to Griffin when Fraser and his ex-wife Afton Smith are no longer around or able to care for him.
“What can we do other than give ourselves a break and muddle our way through it together and do what works until it doesn’t work anymore, and then find something new.”
Rosie O’Donnell’s daughter Dakota was diagnosed with autism at age 2 and 1/2. The comedian opened up in a candid personal essay for People about the journey the duo has gone on since then, and how it has changed her whole perspective on life.
“Dakota’s autism forces me to see the world from a completely different place. She’s a gift from another dimension. The things she knows — about sea anemones and tide pools. I got to 60 not knowing about the Mariana Trench,” O’Donnell wrote. “… She teaches me. To be able to see the world as she does — for me, it’s been a wonderfully magical experience. I’m so glad we have each other.”
Denise Richards, whose daughter, Eloise, was diagnosed with chromosone disorder in 2017, has taken on the challenge of raising a child with special needs. She’s open about the fact that doctors “don’t really have a road map for her particular case,” but she’s heartened by the fact that her first word was “Dad” for Richards’ second husband, Aaron Phypers.
“I don’t know if [Eloise] is ever going to talk like a typical child,” she shared with People. “But as a parent, you want what’s best for your children, and you just do it.”
One of the most tragic things about John Travolta and Kelly Preston’s loss of their 16-year-old son, Jett, at their Bahamas residence was that in the aftermath, they had to go to trial after two men blackmailed the family and threatened to go public with the truth about Jett’s condition. The trial was the first time the public heard Travolta reveal what had long been rumored about his son: Jett was autistic.
“He was autistic. He suffered from a seizure disorder,” Travolta said at the trial in 2009, via ABC News. The couple had been private about their son’s condition and had only shared publicly that he had Kawasaki disease, a blood vessel disorder that causes inflammation throughout the body.
David & Victoria Beckham
Victoria Beckham stunned the world when she yelled at the paparazzi in 2006 as they flashed the bulbs on their cameras trying to get the perfect shot of then 4-year-old son Romeo Beckham at the airport. “He’s got epilepsy… all that flashing will start an epileptic fit… you can’t do that,” she sternly told the press, via People.
That revelation shocked the media and led to Splash News putting a moratorium on photographing the child or the Beckham family when they were all together. Photo agency ownerKevin Smith said, “No photo is worth putting a child’s life in danger.”
Joe Mantegna’s daughter Mia, 35 was diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder when she was 2 years old. TheCriminal Mindsstar told Brain News Magazinethat the news was a shock.
“I remember it hit my wife and me like a ton of bricks because it was just a word we had heard about,” he said.
After the shock wore off, Mantegna and his wife set out to support their daughter however they could. They ultimately thought that would look like placing her in a special education program, but a teacher in Chicago convinced them to put her in a typical first-grade class.
“That made us realize that we don’t have to totally buy into [the thinking] that the child has to be in a protected environment her whole life,” he said.
On her first day, the teacher introduced the other students to Mantegna’s daughter.
“This is Mia,” the teacher said. “She’s going to be a little different than the rest of you kids. She might start singing to herself, she might walk up to the blackboard, she may talk to herself, she may say some inappropriate things. It doesn’t matter. She has Autism. And we’re all going to help her.”
It was an experience that brought tears to the actor’s eyes, and he and his wife spread that message when they moved to Los Angeles.See AlsoAlias: The Complete Third Season - 786936242416Alias: The Complete Third Season - 786936788198
“Just let the kids know,” he told her new teachers. “Once you include them, once you make them part of the process, the accommodation, they get it. They’re very supportive. So you don’t put them in a position where they’re wondering, ‘What’s with this girl? Why is she acting so weird?’ Passing the information to others makes all the difference.”
Jenny McCarthy has been a vocal advocate for research when it comes to autism spectrum disorders because her son, Evan, was diagnosed at the age of two. Her work in this area has also been controversial because of her insistence that vaccines have been linked to autism, even though scientific research has proven otherwise.
Nonetheless, McCarthy persists in finding the best treatment out there for Evan and considers him in “recovery” for autism. “Evan couldn’t talk — now he talks. Evan couldn’t make eye contact — now he makes eye contact. Evan was antisocial — now he makes friends,” she told Time in 2010. “It was amazing to watch, over the course of doing this, how certain therapies work for certain kids and they completely don’t work for others.”
Colin Farrell and Kim Bordenave’s son, James, has a rare genetic disorder called Angelman Syndrome that leaves him nonverbal and unable to care for himself. The former couple recently filed to become co-conservators of their 17-year-old son to help manage his medical and personal needs. While that may seem like a heavy burden for James’ parents, Farrell believes he’s one of the greatest gifts in his life.
“By virtue of his honesty, struggle, persistence and his personality, James brings out the best in people. He literally saved my life,” the Dumbo actor said at the2017 Power of Possibilities charity event. “I was on a destructive path. When I couldn’t make the changes in my life for myself, I made them for James. He gave me the reason to be a better man and father.”
Mia Farrow’s home has always been open to children with special needs. Out of her 14 children, four of them had disabilities. Son Thaddeus, who died in 2016, had contracted polio as a young child in an Indian orphanage and was paralyzed from the waist down. Moses Farrow, adopted from a South Korean orphanage, was born with cerebral palsy. Frankie-Minh Farrow is blind and was adopted from Vietnam, and Quincy Farrow struggled as a newborn after being exposed to drugs in the womb.
It was Mia’s son Ronan, who summed up his mother’s caregiving skills and how she raised their kids to never think about their limitations, only their possibilities.
“I am so proud of my family,” Ronan told Vanity Fair. “I grew up across the table from Moses, who has cerebral palsy, and next to my sister Quincy, born of a drug-addicted inner-city mother, and Minh, who is blind. I could never have understood what it means to grow up blind or with cerebral palsy. I saw problems and needs, so the next thing you think is: O.K., what are you going to do about it?”
Back in 1985, families weren’t openly talking about their children’s special needs, so Sylvester Stallone’s People magazine cover discussing his “silent son,” Seargeoh Stallone, was a game-changer for the autism community. Sly and ex-wife Sasha Stallone set up a research fund to raise money for the National Society for Children and Adults With Autism.
The action star was also at the height of his career when the diagnosis came in, so he was often away on set and struggled to connect with his son. “There is no real father-and-son thing there,” he admitted. “I have to become his playmate. With a child like this, you have to put away your ego. You can’t force him into your world. I sort of go along with whatever he is doing.”
Ed Asner’s son Charlie, 36 has Autism spectrum disorder.
“Patience. Patience. Patience,” The Mary Tyler Moore Show Star told The Tennessean about what is needed to raise a child with ASD. “Always patience. I can’t employ it enough.”
The late actor also had a grandchild and two step-grandchildren who live with ASD. Their father, Matt Asner, 60 is the president and CEO of The Ed Asner Family Center which provides services and programs for people of all abilities.
Toni Braxton’s son Diezel, her youngest with former husband Keri Lewis, was diagnosed with autism at an early age and the couple quickly got involved with the Autism Speaks organization to seek out programs to help him.
In 2016, Braxton controversially stated on Access Hollywood that her son was off the spectrum and no longer considered autistic. “My youngest son, as everyone knows, my son Diezel suffers from — or I should say suffered from autism. I am one of the lucky parents,” she said on the entertainment show, via Daily Mail. “Early diagnosis changes everything. I will tell you this. I will shout it from the rooftops.”
Diezel is now 18 years old and a successful model in the fashion industry.
When Backstreet Boys singer Brian Littrell’s son, Baylee, was 6 years old, the family got a scary diagnosis: atypical Kawasaki Disease. The inflammation of the arteries can cause heart attacks and blood clots in children and is sometimes fatal.
The pop star understood what his son was going through because he had aheart murmur that was corrected withopen-heart surgery in his early 20s. But for Baylee, it took several weeks in the hospital for doctors to figure out the correct diagnosis because he didn’t have textbook symptoms. “You feel helpless as a parent because you’re relying on people who are educated about these things,” he told People in 2009. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster. Fans all over the world were praying for Baylee. We felt that love.”
Baylee hasn’t let his autoimmune disease slow him down — he went on to star in the Broadway musical Disaster! in 2016.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin became a champion for families raising children with Down syndrome when she ran on John McCain’s presidential ticket in 2008. Her fifth child, Trig, was a familiar sight on the campaign trail that year and it invited a lot of love — and a lot of unwarranted criticism.
“Some people have been quite cruel,” Palin told Barbara Walters in 2009. “I am on the Internet and… [have seen] some horrible ads about him that he should have never been born. But, for the most part, people have been so loving and supportive of us that that encourages us and it makes us know that there is … a lot of hope and there is a lot of love in this country.”
Heroes actor Greg Grunberg and his wife Elizabeth were faced with a daunting decision when son Jake’s epilepsy escalated to a very dangerous point. He was having up to 200 seizures per day and needed brain surgery to hopefully solve the issue. Jake’s successful recovery, now controlled only by medication, has made the family huge advocates to others with epilepsy.
“I’m a control freak, as we all are, especially for our kids, we want the best for them, and with something out of control like seizures, you want to do something,” Grunberg said on The Doctors. “How can I make an impact in this community? And talking about it is what we need to do.”
Holly Robinson Peete
When Holly Robinson Peete came forward in 2007 with a People cover story to share her son RJ’s autism journey, her husband Rodney Peete was worried their public frankness about his diagnosis would“limit his possibilities in life.” Instead, it opened up communication with other families sharing a similar path.
“When I look back and see RJ, this strapping young man who’s 20 and has a job — he’s doing all these things that I was told he would never do,” she told People in a 2018 follow-up interview. “It really makes you emotional, because I can’t believe he’s come so far, and I’m still so blessed.”
Bravo TV fans were there from the beginning when The Real Housewives of New Jerseystar Jacqueline Laurita and her husband, Chris, learned that their son, Nicholas, was autistic. Even though she’s no longer on the show, she keeps her followers updated on his progress and milestones on social media.
“I love having the opportunity to be able to show people [what it’s like to live with autism],” she told Bravo’s The Daily Dish, “Because honestly, what’s given me strength is listening to everyone else’s stories, their struggles, their successes. That’s what gives us hope and strength, so if I can do that for someone else, then it feels so good to me.”
The Good Fight star Gary Cole has often called daughter Mary’s autism-spectrum disorder diagnosis at 18 months old his crusade to seek answers. He’s also used his voice to help raise awareness about his child’s special needs.
“People with autism, I don’t like to think of it as a disability, I like to think of it as another way of thinking or perceiving,” he said on Access Hollywood, via Today.com. “And I felt my job was to try to perceive everything on some level through her eyes so I could know what it was like to walk in her shoes.”
Tisha Campbell has always dreamed big for her son, Xen, who was diagnosed with autism almost 20 years ago. Yet she knew that her son’s special needs might make his life look different than what she planned in her mind.
“As a mother of a child who had to go through specific struggles, you want the best for them, but when you get this particular diagnosis you have to retrain your brain to think of your dreams and aspirations when it comes to your child to be a little bit more basic,” she said to Majic 107.5 in 2016. “You don’t have time to feel guilty, you don’t have time to feel sorry for him, for yourself, or your family — it’s time to get down and busy.”
All of her hard work in making sure Xen achieved his goals came true in 2020 when he was accepted to college, where he’s studying to be an animal conservationist.
John C. McGinley
Former Chicago P.D. star John C. McGinley thought he had navigated the course of Down syndrome with his son, Max, fairly well until he remarried and had two daughters, Billie and Kate, with his second wife, Nichole Kessler. Everything he knew about parenting was thrown out the window once he had three kids in the house.
“[Billlie’s] biggest strength is language. She’s extraordinarily verbal, and Max’s biggest challenge is his lack of spoken language,” he told Ability Magazine. “He can read at a certain level and do arithmetic, but he doesn’t form sentences. So parenting Max and parenting Billie represent two polar opposites on the spoken-word spectrum. How we parent them in the same household and find a happy middle has been really interesting and continues to be.”
Laura San Giacomo
Just Shoot Me star Laura San Giacomo didn’t have a blueprint for raising a child with cerebral palsy, but understanding her son Mason’s special needs with impaired motor function changed her perspective on life. She realized that the world doesn’t embrace disabilities, they often shun them.
“We don’t have a really constructive or positive view of disability really around the world,” she told Oprah Winfrey’s Where Are They Now? “But what would happen if the doctor said to you, instead of these ridiculously heartbreaking predictions, which are so often not true, why don’t they say to you, ‘Look, this is the greatest gift you’re going to be given.’”
One Night in Miamistar Christopher Gorham’s son, Lucas, has Asperger’s syndrome, but he and his wife, Anel Lopez, didn’t have an official diagnosis until he was in elementary school. Lucas eventually thrived in a school that was “geared toward kids on the autism spectrum,” which gave him the “best shot at having the best life he can.”
“We got a diagnosis fairly late. He was 9-years-old, which is kind of the blessing and the curse of that diagnosis. Because he’s very high functioning we didn’t really know that something was off until later,” he explained to Disability Scoop. “It’s upsetting to hear that something is wrong with your child. At the same time, it’s a relief to know what’s wrong with your child because if you know what’s wrong then you can start to take steps to help them.”