The candor with which some celebrities discuss their private lives on social media is one of the most remarkable aspects of the modern era. While opening up to fans is a personal decision, many celebrities are raising funds and awareness for charitable causes by discussing the challenges they and their families face.
Bringing more money to research and helping to de-stigmatize what it means to deal with these challenges can be accomplished when Hollywood opens up about raising celebrity children with disabilities.
Which Celebs have spoken publicly about the challenges and triumphs of raising a disabled child in their family?
- John Travolta
Tragically, after the death of their son Jett, 16, at their Bahamas home, John Travolta and Kelly Preston had to go to trial because they had been blackmailed by two men who threatened to reveal the truth about Jett’s condition to the public. At trial, Travolta confirmed the public’s suspicions that his son Jett suffered from autism.
“He was autistic. He suffered from a seizure disorder,” Travolta testified in 2009 via ABC News about his testimony. The only information the parents had been willing to share publicly was that their son suffered from Kawasaki disease, a blood vessel disorder that causes inflammation throughout the body.
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- David & Victoria Beckham
In 2006, when the paparazzi were trying to get the perfect picture of Romeo Beckham, then four years old, at the airport, his mother Victoria Beckham shocked the world by yelling at them.
“He’s got epilepsy…all that flashing will start an epileptic fit… you can’t do that,” according to People, she told the media very firmly.
This news completely shocked the media, and as a result, Splash News has banned any further photographs of the Beckham family or their child. According to Kevin Smith, owner of a photography agency, “no photo is worth putting a child’s life in danger.”
- Colin Farrell
James Farrell Bordenave, son of Colin Farrell and Kim Bordenave, is nonverbal and requires 24-hour care due to a rare genetic disorder called Angelman Syndrome. Ex-spouses seek joint conservatorship over their son, 17, to share responsibility for his care. Although that may be a lot of pressure for James’s parents, Farrell considers James to be one of the greatest blessings 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 the 2017 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
Mia Farrow has long welcomed children with special needs into her home. Four of her fourteen children were disabled. Son Thaddeus, who passed away in 2016, was paralyzed from the waist down after contracting polio as a young child in an Indian orphanage. Born with cerebral palsy, Moses Farrow was adopted from a South Korean orphanage. Frankie-Minh Farrow, who was adopted from Vietnam and is blind, and Quincy Farrow, who was exposed to drugs in utero, both had difficult childhoods.
Ronan, Mia’s son, summed up his mother’s nurturing abilities and the way she taught him and his siblings to see only opportunities rather than constraints.
“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?”
- Sylvester Stallone
In 1985, the autism community was given a huge boost when Sylvester Stallone appeared on the cover of People magazine to talk about his “silent son,” Seargeoh Stallone. Together with his ex-wife, Sasha Stallone, Sly Stallone established a research fund to benefit the National Society for Children & Adults with Autism.
The diagnosis came at a pivotal time in the career of the action star, so he was frequently away on set and found it difficult 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.”
- Toni Braxton
Diezel Braxton, Toni Braxton and Keri Lewis’ youngest son, was diagnosed with autism at a young age, and the couple immediately became involved with the Autism Speaks organization in search of treatment options for their son.
On an episode of Access Hollywood from 2016, Braxton made the controversial claim that her son was no longer on the autism spectrum.
“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.”
- Sarah Palin
In 2008, while running for president on John McCain’s ticket, Sarah Palin, then the governor of Alaska, became an advocate for families raising children with Down syndrome. The public’s reaction to seeing her with her fifth child, Trig, on the campaign trail that year was mixed.
In 2009, Palin revealed this to Barbara Walters: “Some people have been quite cruel. 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.”
- Holly Robinson Peete
Holly Robinson Peete revealed her son RJ’s autism diagnosis and treatment in a 2007 People cover story, and her husband Rodney Peete was concerned that their candor about the matter would “limit his possibilities in life.” Instead, it made it easier to connect with other families going through a similar situation.
“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.”
With their son Jake’s epilepsy reaching a critical stage, Heroes star Greg Grunberg and his wife Elizabeth were forced to make a difficult choice. He required brain surgery in the hopes of putting an end to the 200 daily seizures he was experiencing. Following Jake’s remarkable recovery, which is now being maintained solely by medication, his family has become passionate advocates for the epilepsy community.
“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.”
- Brian Littrell
Baylee Littrell, the son of Backstreet Boys singer Brian Littrell, was diagnosed with atypical Kawasaki disease when he was just six years old. A child’s life may be in danger if the inflammation of the arteries leads to a heart attack or a blood clot.
The singer had an identical experience when he was a young man; he was diagnosed with a heart murmur and underwent open-heart surgery to have it fixed. However, because Baylee didn’t exhibit typical symptoms, it took doctors a while to make an accurate diagnosis and discharge him from the hospital.
“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.