Frumpfighter

Lessons learned from Travolta tragedy

Posted on: January 7, 2009

It’s amazing how some people are the perfect parents – of somebody else’s child. That kind of thinking has been going on since the beginning of time but has only been exacerbated with the Internet and its endless stream of information.   

I’ll admit when I heard John Travolta and Kelly Preston’s son, Jett, died suddenly last week, I did a search on the family. I wasn’t aware of Jett’s medical problems and immediately became sucked into the comment sections of articles on them. Many of the entries and comments had varying versions of how Jett became ill as a toddler. His parents said he contracted Kawasaki disease – an illness that causes inflammation of the blood vessels – from exposure to carpet cleaner.

Others, however, said Jett had autism, a development disorder that affects the ability to communicate. This is where the story gets complicated. The Church of Scientology, of which John and Kelly are devout members, doesn’t recognize autism or any other “mental illness”, therefore they never had their son treated for autism.

When my son, Sage, was 3 months old, we had his hearing and vision tested due to concerns from his day care providers. His hearing was fine but he was eventually diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia – basically a genetically small optic nerve. As the next few months went by, it became obvious he wasn’t developing like other infants his age. He was signed up for infant/toddler services and was in therapy. Over the next several years, doctors had suspected everything from poor vision to cerebral palsy.

After a series of tests in the summer of 2006, when Sage was 3, the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital diagnosed him with Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified. Depending on where you look, autism is a part of this category or it falls on the autism spectrum. Although it was not really a surprise, and we had been dealing with Sage’s developmental delays since he was a baby, the diagnosis was still devastating. So many questions, so many worries for the future.

 Autism is difficult for society to understand. Many afflicted with it look as normal as any other child – Sage is one of the most beautiful children I have ever seen. Jenny McCarthy summed it up perfectly in the forward of her book “Louder Than Words” (Penguin Group):

“When your child is diagnosed with cancer, neighbors stop by your home bringing precooked meals, hugs, and support. When your child is diagnosed with autism, families who see you in the supermarket will slip away down another aisle.”

My husband and I have had plenty of unsolicited suggestions on how to deal with our son. Discipline him more. Take him to more specialists. Put him on a different diet. And the perennial favorite, “If he were my child…”

I’m not rock solid about a lot of things in life, but I will guarantee that nobody loves that child or cares about his well being more than his father and me. I would like to think most parents, including John Travolta and Kelly Preston, feel the same way about their children.

Sage, my beautiful boy

Sage, my beautiful boy

I’m not going to comment on Scientology other to say that early intervention and therapy have helped my child tremendously in the past three years. But to those making comments about Jett Travolta’s death and the way he was raised, take a moment to think how you would feel if you lost a child. I, for one, can’t even imagine the pain.

It’s no accident that one of the most honorable fictional characters is Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  His line, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it,” is one that most students learn in junior high or high school. You learn it for a reason. Follow it.

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4 Responses to "Lessons learned from Travolta tragedy"

If this was a family in poverty who was not getting there autistic child proper care and eschewing medical interventions, the child would have been placed with ACS and an investigation for neglect filed.

I was neither condoning or condemming Scientology or its beliefs. I just asked that people respect that a child – a son – has died.

[…] “accidentally” began blogging about my son, Sage, and our journey on the autism spectrum when controversy began brewing about the death of […]

[…] “accidentally” began blogging about my son, Sage, and our journey on the autism spectrum when controversy began brewing about the death of […]

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