Real Housewife of NJ Reveals Son Has Autism

Real Housewife of NJ‘s  Jacqueline Laurita is used to the drama of Reality TV.

But the drama on screen was nothing in comparison to the heartbreak going on behind the scenes for Laurita and her family.

After suffering 5 miscarriages, Jacqueline, 41, and her husband Chris, 46, were delighted when their son Nicholas was born 3 years ago. They marveled that speech and motor skills seemed advanced  for a one year old.

However, pride turned to concern when at 15 months, they notice a regression in his milestones and by 18 months:

He wasn’t answering to his name or noticing people come into the room. He couldn’t follow a simple command.

Laurita told People magazine that an evaluation eventually lead them to the diagnosis of autism.

Nicholas’s condition was not seen during the filming of the fourth season Real Housewives, although cast members knew about the problem. Laurita explained:

Everyone knew, but we weren’t ready to put it out there until we had a treatment plan in place.

One of the treatments Nicholas is undergoing is called Applied Behavior Analysis (see Part 2). Although they saw improvement in his abilities, they also had to deal with behavior issues:

He was frustrated and hitting people…. It’s so hard. He can’t communicate what he wants, but you can’t let him think that aggressive behavior is going to get him a reward.

The Lauritas have not yet decided whether they will appear in Season 5, but Jacqueline says that if she did, she would openly document what they are doing with their son.

If I could help one person by showing this, it would be worth it.

What is Autism?

Autism is a group of developmental brain disorders, collectively called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum. This is a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness.

Scientists aren’t certain what causes autism, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role.

Extensive review of research literature has also shown that autism is NOT caused by immunizations.

The main signs and symptoms of autism involve problems in the following areas:

  • Communication – both verbal (spoken) and non-verbal (unspoken, such as pointing, eye contact, and smiling)
  • Social – such as sharing emotions, understanding how others think and feel, and holding a conversation
  • Routines or repetitive behaviors (also called stereotyped behaviors) – such as repeating words or actions, obsessively following routines or schedules, and playing in repetitive ways

Autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls.

Paternal Age and Autism

A study in the scientific journal Nature was reported this past week that might shine some light on the mystery of autism.

Dr. Kari Stefansson and colleagues at deCODE Genetics in Reykjavik, Iceland have been able to do whole genome sequences on almost 80 trios of a mother, father and child. They looked for mutations in the child which were not found in either parent and therefore had to be passed onto the child by a mutation in either the egg or sperm.

Their study showed that fathers passed on nearly four times as many mutations as mothers, and that the rate increased by about 2 mutations/year with the increasing age of the father.

Although most of these mutations are harmless, the researchers found that some of the mutations have been linked to autism and schizophrenia.
Dr. Stefansson talks about this in the first 5-1/2 minutes of this podcast:

In Part 2 of this story, we will talk about what Applied Behavior Analysis is, and how it is helping children with autism.

For information about autism, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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