Reality television sunk to a new low when Joe Giudice, husband of Teresa Giudice of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, stated that autism “isn’t really a bad disease,” while criticizing co-stars Jacqueline and Chris Laurita, who are raising a child with the disorder.
“A lot of people have autism. I mean, autism isn’t really a bad disease — some of them are like, scientists,” Joe said. He also accused Jacqueline and Chris of using their son, Nicholas, as an “excuse.”
Teresa defended her husband, saying, “I know my husband, and he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, he just knows I’m really hurt by what Jacqueline did to me.”
Jacqueline Laurita responded to the comments on her blog at www.bravotv.com. She said, “My response to what Joe Giudice said about autism is simply this: autism is a developmental disorder that requires a LOT of extra time and special attention that sometimes parents of typical kids find it hard to understand. Google it. ”
The Laurita’s son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with autism at age 3. He had been developing normally until the age of 15 months, when his parents noticed a regression in his speech and motor skills. By 18 months, he was no longer answering to his name or noticing when others would enter the room. Jacqueline has spoken of the grief she felt when Nicholas stopped saying “I love you.”
Nicholas’s diagnosis came at the end of Season 4. Jacqueline and Chris made the choice to remain on the show, in order to increase autism awareness. “Please understand that autism is NOT my ‘storyline,’ Autism is our reality,” Jacqueline wrote on her blog.
Other media outlets were especially harsh on Giudice. The Stir called him “loathsome.” The Hollywood Gossip gave him the benefit of the doubt, saying that his words came from ignorance, but they also said, “Some say ignorance is bliss. I say it’s frightening.” Sydney Levin of the Huffington Post wrote that neither of the Giudices came out looking great, and that Brendan Fraser should thank Joe Giudice for being the inspiration for his movie Encino Man.
Giudice’s insensitive comments highlight a truth that any family living with autism knows all too well – “normal” people just don’t get it. Every parent of a child with autism has faced ignorant comments like these at one time or another, often from well-meaning, but uninformed friends or family members. While his comments were certainly hurtful to the Laurita family, they do shine a spotlight on the ignorance that is altogether too common in society.
The rate of autism has risen from 1 in 88 to 1 in 50 children, and it continues to rise. While scientists are working on finding the cause, and a cure, families all over the world are struggling with the same challenges the Laurita family documents on their show. Many hope that Joe Giudice will apologize for his comments, and his gaffe will educate others.