4 Celebrity Families with Special Needs

Ashley Greene at The 2010 ESPY Awards in LA

In a society that isn’t always accepting of people with disabilities, it’s downright thrilling to hear celebrities talk openly – and proudly – about their children with special needs.

From Colin Farrell‘s son who is “nothing but a gift,” to Laura San Giacomo‘s son who proved the doctors wrong, let’s take a look at 4 celebrity parents who celebrate diversity, and work toward shattering the shame of any diagnosis or label.

  • Colin Farrell

Irish hunk Colin Farrell, who went through rehab in 2005 for substance and alcohol abuse, says his son James, now 9, who has special needs is “nothing but a gift.”

“I don’t know if I would be here if I hadn’t had him,” the Total Recall actor said. He was a huge part of me going in and making certain changes in my life.”

Colin’s son James was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, a neuro-genetic disorder that affects speech and movement, when he was a year old.

“I look around and I see people who move perfectly, who walk with grace, who speak with great diction and clarity and a great use of the English language and we’re all miserable f**kers – including me, at times,” Colin said. “And then I see this fella who doesn’t move the way what’s perceived to be ‘normal’ is, and he’s as happy as can be.”

The Seven Psychopaths actor went on to discuss Angelman Syndrome – a neuro-genetic disorder with symptoms including intellectual and developmental disability, seizures, jerky movements and sleep disturbances.

”[My ex Kim Bordenave and I] share in the smallest victories; the first words at age six or seven, being able to feed oneself at 19, and getting the seizures under control,” Colin revealed. “When James took his first steps at age four, I nearly broke in half!”

The sexy actor – who is also father to son Henry, 3, with ex girlfriend Alicja Bachleda-Curus – went public with James’ condition when he was 4, crediting the Paralympic games as his inspiration and source of courage.

”It was at the Special Olympics in Shanghai in 2007 that I decided, after consulting with James’ mother, that I wanted to talk publicly about the pride and joy I had in our son,” Colin said. “He has enriched my life, but I don’t want to minimise the trials that so many families go through; the fear, consternation, frustration, and pain.”

”When you’re the parent of a child with special needs, it’s important to feel that you’re not alone,” he added.

Colin currently works with the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome (FAST) to raise awareness and empower other families affected by the disorder.

  • Holly Robinson Peete

Actress Holly Robinson Peete and husband Rodney Peete are proud parents to four kids: 15-year-old twins RJ and Ryan, and sons Robinson, 10, and Roman, 7.

The Mike & Molly star opened up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about RJ, her teen son who was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

“RJ is in the trenches of puberty which is challenging for typical teens but autism and adolescnce are an especially tough mix,” Holly shared.

“We’ve seen some regression and the hurdles are fresh,” she added. “But Team RJ is in full effect. That’s the blessing in having a big family – amazing support and love. A child with autism knows how to be nothing else but sincere. They are beautiful.”

She added: “He is verbal, affable, he has friends and plays team sports – all of which we were told he’d never do.”

  • Katie Price:

British glamour model Katie Price is a busy mom-of-three. The reality star has openly discussed the special needs of her 10-year-old son Harvey.

The best-selling author keeps a set of printed cards in her purse so when she encounters people staring at Harvey, who has septo-optic dysplasia (which causes blindness and growth hormone deficiency), Prader-Willi syndrome (a genetic disorder causing him to eat to excess and prone to obesity and diabetes) and ADHD and autism – she can simply hand a card to them, which reads,

“You’re obviously looking because you’re interested. This is his condition… Look up what’s wrong with him and if you want to donate to a charity that supports children like this, then do it.”

“Well, you just get on with it, don’t you?” she said about raising a child with special needs. “What can you do? I can’t sit in the corner and cry and go, ‘Oh, Harvey’s blind.’ I can’t change anything. I didn’t dwell on it. Fortunately I’m the kind of person that gets on with things.”

  • Laura San Giacomo:

Pretty Woman star Laura San Giacomo shared her amazing story of raising 16-year-old son Mason, who has cerebral palsy, and creating a groundbreaking fully inclusive school for children of all abilities.

Read through Laura’s inspirational interview with Celebrity Baby Scoop

Mason has cerebral palsy. Do you talk about it publicly?

LSG: “Yes I do. We started a fully inclusive school about 11, maybe 12 years ago now, which is a public charter school that the focus is full inclusion, which means that everyone goes to school together all day long; kids who happen to have disabilities, typical kids and gifted kids sitting side by side in the classroom.

And it’s been a very successful elementary school and middle school. We started with 70 kids, now it’s over 700. And it has reached really good scores as well as been adopted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was given to him by his wife for his 60th birthday to be his flagship school, and it’s doing really well.”

Can you please speak on the importance of inclusion for children of all abilities to be together?

LSG: “Well there’s some really wonderful things that happen. First, kids realize that everyone is different and everyone is the same and everyone is to be valued. That’s something that, really, adults need to learn. Kids just automatically value each other.

So within the first 100 days of school an NPR radio show came to our school to do a piece on inclusion and the journalist who was setting up situations where she was trying to get the kids to describe each other by disability — and they really didn’t.

She would say, ‘Whose backpack is that?,’ knowing it was someone who was in a wheelchair or who maybe was deaf — we also had a deaf and hard of hearing program at that time — and the kids would say, ‘That’s Johnny’s, he got it for Christmas. It’s his Justice League backpack. He’s over there he’s in the red shorts.’

So they would describe him as they would any other child, not by disability but by color of hair or shorts or whose class they were in. And it was a beautiful lesson for all of us to learn that right from the get-go, disability can be completely normal. And that’s how most of us who founded the school live our lives, because most of the parents who had the energy and the drive to found the school were actually parents of kids who happen to have disabilities.

So it was really wonderful when all of the typical and gifted kids who go there got to be leaders — got to have friendships, got to help other kids, got to be inspired by other kids. Got to learn that we all give our friends a lot of leeway and those kids learned that right from the get-go. And that everyone was a valuable member of their class even if they happen to not be able to walk or talk.”

What are you most passionate about?

LSG: “Well I’m certainly most passionate about my son and education and literacy and opportunity for all kids. And that’s, you know, other than acting and mothering that’s what I’ve been most focused on in the last decade and a half in starting a school and keeping that up and running. And now with a new project on the horizon, a technology and literacy center.

So that’s kind of my ‘hobby’ and I really love to see kids learning and laughing together and struggling together. And you know, that’s really one of my passions.”

Please give us your best advice to parents who have kids with special needs.

LSF: “I think first of all there’s so much negativity around [disability]. Perhaps a really difficult birth, a really difficult childhood trauma, an extremely difficult diagnosis and there’s a lot of mourning that goes on and a lot of fear. And trying to adjust your mind around what you thought your parenting was going to be to what it’s now going to be.

And I wish that medical professionals would tell parents, ‘This is your chance to be the most incredible person, to be better than you ever thought you were going to be, to become smarter than you ever thought you were, to become more imaginative than you ever thought you could be. And this is your chance to really shine and step up to the plate for the biggest game of your life.’ There’s a lot of great power surrounding the community and I sort of want to inject with, you know, the green masters of jacket – of the golf world.

And I wish that doctors and medical professionals when they give the diagnosis would also put a green jacket on your shoulders and say, ‘Hey, this is your chance. You have been given this most incredible and amazing challenge and it is going to be the hardest thing you will ever do in your life, and it is going to be the thing that is going to be the most joyful thing in your life. You will experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and you are going to be amazing and your child is going to be amazing.’

And they will play basketball, whether it is from a wheelchair or someone helping them, they will find all kinds of things that you do not know, because your mind is too closed to what a disability might be. They will find and they will show you what they are going to be excited and passionate and joyful about. And your job is to take a machete and carve the path in front of them. Find out what they love to do and carve it and let them experience all of the world.

And that’s a lot, and nobody is going to want to hear that. They just want to cry, but at the other side of the crying is going to be a full and rich life that is going to be tiring, but also extremely fulfilling and joyful.”

Did you have that positive outlook when you first got the diagnosis?

LSF: “No, I did not. The first thing that someone told me is, ‘Well he’ll never play basketball.’ And there he was five years later playing basketball. So it’s all old, really old projection. It’s all from an old school where kids were institutionalized. As near as the ’70s kids were not going home with their parents.

It’s ready, the world is different now and it also is part of our responsibility to keep changing the world and to keep setting an example that, ‘No, what you tell me when he’s a baby in my arms, and you’re telling me he’s not going to play basketball, that’s just not true. I could send you 80 pictures of him playing basketball throughout his elementary school career.’

Now it doesn’t look like a professional basketball player, but most of the world is not going to become a professional basketball player. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have joy that a kid is playing basketball on the playground. It’s going to happen in a different way, but that’s not something any parent needs to be told. But it’s an old view from an old medical paradigm that is just not happening any more.

And I wish the medical professionals had the time to go out and see what their patients are doing. To see what life is happening, to see inclusion at its most beautiful and finest. And then you don’t have to say dumb things like that to parents and make them cry in your office. It’s just not necessary.”

Do you have a child with special needs? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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  1. julian sloan

    my son,which is 25 now actually saved my life and my marriage.he has Downs,and everything about him is nothing but love.when he looks in your eyes,it’s as though he is looking into your very soul.his touch.when he holds my hand you can feel the tenderness,the kindness that he has.people are going to treat their child differently and that’s fine,but to try and hide them away…this is not the 1930′s Germany.so i say to all of you that have these special people in your lives just love them,treat them as you would any other child.as time goes by things get easier i promise.

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