April 2 marks “Autism Awareness Day,” when many advocates push to bring more attention to the brain developmental disorder that has now become an epidemic. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is diagnosed at an early age, affects 1 in 68 American children. Though there is no cure or true cause for autism, there’s more information about the spectrum than ever before.
Thankfully for the autism community, many celebrities have used their platform to bring awareness and aid in propelling this once little-known disorder to the national spotlight. Other celebrities have dedicated their time and resources to the cause not just because they’re passionate about it, but because it hits home. Take a look at these five celebrity parents with children living on the spectrum.
Toni’s youngest son Diezel was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. The singer has since become the global ambassador for Autism Speak, in which she took her advocacy work to the United Nations. Toni is one of Hollywood’s biggest and most visible supporters and even spoke openly about how autism leads many marriages to divorce. “No one tells you this part – but Suzanne from Autism Speaks told me ‘Toni, the divorce rate is 80 percent when you have a special needs, autistic kid.’ No one talks about that part because the parents blame themselves. Making decisions about therapy is going to cause you to bicker and fight a bit. It played a little bit of a role in mine. Not the complete role, but it was definitely a role.”
Holly Robinson Peete
Holly can often be considered the attack dog among celebrity advocates. The actress and mother of autistic son, RJ, had no qualms calling out rappers J. Cole and 50 Cent for what she felt were insensitive and offensive to people living with autism. When 50 tried to make fun of someone on Twitter by saying they “look autistic,” Robinson Peete blasted the rapper in a lengthy letter. “I hope you can see how what you might see as a benign insult-or not- was so randomly hurtful, immature and misinformed. Maybe you are naive or indifferent as to how many of your fans might be deeply and personally offended by your insult,” she wrote. She also created the HollyRod Foundation, which provides care to people living with autism and Parkinson’s Disease.
The Nets basketball all-star is one of the few athletes to publicly advocate for autism awareness. As an ambassador for Autism Speaks, he’s participated in charity sports games to benefit autism groups and, more recently, Williams announced that he would be hosting 65 families affected by autism in his suite at the Barclays Center during the Nets-Atlanta game. Williams and his wife Amy adopted their 5-year-old son D.J., who was diagnosed with autism when he was 2.
Tisha Campbell-Martin and husband Duane Martin are the proud parents of autistic son, Xen. (They also named their swanky Hollywood restaurant after him). In 2011, Tisha teamed up with four other mothers of autistic children to produce a short film called Colored My Mind, which was screened at the MegaFest International Faith and Film Festival. She also published a children's book called “My Brother Doesn’t Want to Play” to help children cope with having a sibling who is "different." More specifically, the “Martin” and “Real Husbands Of Hollywood” actress has advocated to bring more awareness to the disorder within the African-American community.
Though the comedian caught huge backlash for using the word “retarded” during his standup, D.L. Hughley’s son Kyle has Asperger’s disease, which is a form of autism. Though the comedian defended his use of the word in making a joke about his relationship with his son, many felt it was in terrible taste. His wife LaDonna, however, worked with Tisha Campbell-Martin on the short film, Colored My Mind, which brings awareness to those with special needs.
(Photos from left: Jason Kempin/Getty Images, Frederick M. Brown/Getty, Andy Kropa/Getty Images)