The news emerged last night that Jett Travolta, the teenage son of John Travolta and Kelly Preston, had died tragically on a family vacation, apparently from a seizure.
There has been much rumour over the years as to Jett's condition and true diagnosis. Not being a huge celebrity watcher myself, I couldn't be bothered to follow up all the Google links this morning, but Kristina Chew, (formerly of Autism Vox, one of my favourite autism blogs) has tackled the subject in her usual balanced manner here on her new blog.
Does it matter whether Jett had autism or not? Well, yes and no. I can absolutely understand a family wanting to keep their child's privacy. Yet at the same time a public acknowledgement, even if it is just to say yes, my child has the condition but we don't wish to sell the story, can help other parents.
When a child is diagnosed with any disability or serious medical condition, families can feel very isolated. Just knowing you are not alone, that even celebrities have children with similar problems, can be comforting. It can help parents get past the denial which is a normal part of coming to terms with the situation, the grieving process for the child you once expected.
Awareness raising is another factor. Again this might be through formal interviews or autobiographies, but it could equally just be by being an active role model. We all have our own levels of how much we want to disclose about our family lives. I feel comfortable in talking about son 2 on here, but as I'm sure you are aware, you read the edited version. My novel is tackling the subject in another way, by combining elements of our story together with things I have learnt from others and by adding in a huge amount of situational fiction. The emotional truth will be told, but in a different way.
I wonder how much more, if anything, the Travolta family will eventually disclose? It is, of course, absolutely their right to keep Jett's life and death private, yet at the same time they could in due course celebrate his life by sharing and helping others.
But in the meantime my sympathies are with them for their sad loss.