According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an average of 1 in 110 children has been diagnosed with some form of autism, bringing the estimated number of people in the United States who suffer from this disorder to between 1.5 and 2 million. It also affects untold numbers of family and friends, and celebrities are no exception. In recent years, many celebrities have come forward to speak about autism and how it has affected their lives and the lives of their family members. Luckily, many of them have opted to use their influence on behalf of autism acceptance and education, and they’re making a real difference.
The most notable and outspoken celebrity on this topic is probably Jenny McCarthy, who has become known in recent years as the face of autism. Her son, Evan, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. She famously spoke about it on Oprah in 2007 and then began chronicling her journey to get him treatment in 2008’s Louder Than Words and 2009’s Mother Warriors: A Nation of Parents Healing Autism Against All Odds. Along with Dr. Jerry Karzinel, M.D., she also co-wrote the 2009 release Healing and Preventing Autism: A Complete Guide. And if that wasn’t enough, she founded an organization called Generation Rescue, consisting of “…scientists, physicians, and parent-volunteers researching the causes and treatments for autism…” Besides doing research, Generation Rescue strives to provide parents of autistic children with education and resources (including funding grants) to get early treatment. She, more than anyone, has helped this disorder come into the national spotlight.
Another celebrity who has dedicated himself to fighting autism is quarterback Doug Flutie, whose son, Doug Flutie, Jr., was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. He was one of the first celebrities to bring autism into the public spotlight. Doug and his wife Laurie started the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism in 2000 to increase awareness about the disorder, raise money both for research and to help families in need, and improve the overall quality of life for those suffering from autism. Since 1998, the Fluties have raised more than $10 million through corporate donations and endorsements.
Another former football player who is doing his part to fight autism is Dan Marino. After his son, Michael, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, he and his wife Claire sought immediate treatment. Within months, he was able to begin speaking with the aid of a speech pathologist and today he functions at the same level as his peers. Because Michael had such success with early treatment, Marino wanted to find a way to help others. So in 1998 he built the Dan Marino Center at the Miami Children’s Hospital to treat children with autism and other developmental disorders. Then in 2005 his foundation donated $1.2 million to establish the Marino Autism Research Institute (MARI), with the goal of developing cutting edge research on the causes and treatments of autism.
Whether because autism is spreading or because it has become more widely recognized and diagnosed, it now affects more families than ever. And many celebrities have found themselves among that number. But by using the multiple resources at their disposal, they are doing their part to ensure that research continues and families obtain the education and resources they need to cope with and treat autism.
Guest Post by: Sarah Leonard of Nursing Programs.