Jacqueline Laurita has made a household name of herself after joining the cast of Bravo's own Real Housewives of New Jersey. Beyond the hearty exterior portrayed on the show (although she's known for her honesty and authenticity), Jacqueline has struggled in her own right while raising her autistic son Nicholas.
I had the pleasure of interviewing her, and I hope as you read you'll join me in welcoming her to our growing and compassionate community!
Jacqueline is a very strong-willed woman who has a magnificent outlook on life. A loving mother who is not afraid to back down from any challenge, she actually takes the time to learn about somebody before passing judgment, unlike many of us. Jacqueline is also very ambitious when it comes to her multiple careers, yet she somehow manages to always make time for her beautiful family.
Jacqueline’s son Nicholas was diagnosed with autism back in 2012 at the age of three, and in the years since Jacqueline has become a leading campaigner for increasing autism awareness. I asked her about views on autism, her goals for the future and how she grew into the amazing woman that she is today.
Russell Lehmann: You are revered for being a thoughtful, down-to-earth woman who loves to give back to the community and spread welfare. Where do these impressive principles and traits of yours stem from, and what have you learned from your experiences of helping those who are less fortunate than you?
Jacqueline Laurita: I think that my parents had something to do with that for sure. I was always encouraged to be honest, stay true to myself and to stay grounded. I think it also comes from my life experiences. I’ve been through a lot in my life and it has always been the support of others that has got me through the obstacles in my life. I want to be there to support others because I know how it feels. Others have been there for me. It’s a way for me to pay it forward.
You exited “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” after season five. What have you been doing with your time since?
I have been enjoying time with my family and focusing on Nicholas’s recovery, writing books on beauty and autism, which are both passions of mine. I help out my husband with his beverage company while also trying to get my beauty website launched.
I have also been a very active advocate in the autism community by answering emails from families affected, attending autism related conferences, benefits, doing public speaking engagements and writing featured articles for magazines. I will continue to do that.
You have said that early intervention is the key to recovery. For the first half of my life I confounded doctors with my symptoms, until I was finally diagnosed with autism when I was 12. Your son Nicholas was diagnosed when he was three. You are a woman who emits vibes of positivity and optimism. Nicholas is almost five now, and so I pose this question to you:
If Nicholas wasn’t diagnosed for another seven or eight years, and you and your family were left in the dark with no idea as to how to help your son, what actions might you have taken, and do you think this hypothetical situation would have changed your bright and confident outlook on life?
I think that I would have taken each challenge as it came with the best of my ability. Regardless, I would have focused on enhancing Nicholas’s strengths and do my best to give him the tools he needed to get around whatever obstacle or challenge was in his way and to bring out the best in him. I’m all about focusing on the solutions rather than the problems. Otherwise, life can get too overwhelming.
With or without an actual diagnosis, the challenges would have eventually presented themselves and we would have had to address it and find a way to make progress by giving him the right tools he needed in order to thrive.
There is no doubt that the diagnosis definitely gave us more clarity and understanding to what we were dealing with, while also providing us with a better road map of what active steps we could take to help Nicholas, including knowing our legal rights. Regardless, I would continue to try to defy expectations. It’s never too late for anyone to learn and improve. Always believe things can get better, because they can. In coping with anything, it’s all about perception and keeping a positive attitude. Focus on the amazing “abilities” our children have and not so much on their “disabilities”. Everyone has special skills, and everyone has challenges.
Have a clear vision of what you want your future to look like. Believe you can manifest it. Make short and long-term goals while focusing and following through on them with tunnel vision and perseverance. Block out all the negative talk and choose positive thoughts and actions. Have gratitude. Continually try to defy expectations while focusing on the solutions rather than the problems when hitting any obstacle. This will help you achieve anything in life… if you believe it’s possible!
What lessons of life have you learned from having a first-hand experience with autism?
I have definitely learned patience and understanding and what’s important in life. I learned to still remember to make time for myself so that I don’t get too overwhelmed. Those small breaks help me to go back in and fight harder for my child. It’s also important to make special time with your spouse and other siblings that are not diagnosed. The experience has also taught me to be more accepting and understanding of others’ idiosyncrasies. It taught me to have gratitude and celebrate each and every accomplishment my child makes, and not take anything for granted, because I see first-hand how hard he works for those accomplishments.
I myself do not think that autism should ever be fully cured. I believe it is a gift that one must learn to live with. I couldn’t agree with you more when you say Nicholas doesn’t need to be fixed, because he isn’t broken. When did this philosophy of yours come into being and what do you think made you come to this conclusion?
I don’t see autism as being something bad or something to be ashamed of, and I never want my son to be ashamed of it either. It’s just one piece of who he is as a whole individual. He just has a different way of processing things. I know my son is brilliant and I have heard of many well-known successful people at the top of their fields who have either been suspected to have or have been diagnosed with autism. I know it’s a gift, I know my son is happy and I know he loves me. People with autism just learn and view the world differently. Different does not mean bad. It’s just different. When I say “recover” my child, I want him to recover all the skills he lost when he regressed and for him to continue to learn things that will help make his life a little easier in the future. I’m not trying to “fix” him or even make him “typical” but I am trying to give him all the tools I can provide for him to help him to become more independent. If I can do that for him and he is going to benefit from it, then I am going to keep fighting to give him what he needs. His quirkiness makes him unique and adorable and I wouldn’t want to change that for anything. He makes me smile every day. I think everyone is a little quirky. I know I am.
Autism definitely has an ugly side to it, but with that ugliness comes the opportunity to learn and grow in a very unique and special way. When times get tough and Nicholas is having a bad day, do you sometimes wish that Nicholas never had autism? Or would you rather live with the emotional wounds dealt out by the disorder, knowing that you have an ability to be much more insightful about life than the average person?
Don’t we ALL have an ugly side as well as the opportunity to learn and grow? Someone with an autism diagnosis is no different. Autism is not something that I ever wished my child would have, and it’s a different journey than the one I had expected, but it is still just as wonderful. I think it’s difficult for any parent to watch their child, typical or not, struggle with anything, so when Nicholas is struggling with something and is having a bad day, it breaks my heart.
Nicholas has struggles that my other children don’t have, but they each have their own unique struggles in life and have challenged me and themselves in different ways. I’ve hurt watching all of them struggle at one point or another. That’s a parent’s love. We all have struggles, they are just different struggles. You learn to adjust and cope. We all learn, grow and evolve. We all get frustrated with life, we all hurt at times and we all feel joy. Support from others is really important during these times.
I honestly love the journey that my son’s autism diagnosis has taken me on. I have learned so much and I have met so many wonderful, supportive people along the way. My son has brought me so much joy each and every day. All my kids are unique and I love them all.
What is your biggest stress reliever?
Venting to someone who “gets it”, then meditating while listening to positive affirmations. I like going into the Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber to relax and walking outdoors when the weather is nice. Sex works, too. (Laughs)
What do you like to do for fun, and what kind of activities does your family enjoy doing together?
I enjoy our crazy family gatherings every Sunday because they are very entertaining and always a lot of fun. I enjoy date nights with my husband as well as with other couples. We enjoy good food. My kids enjoy watching movies together. We also enjoy hiking. In the summer we rent a beach house with many of our family members. We also do a lot of fun activities in the fall at local farms. Road trips anywhere are always fun.
What do you have your sights set on for the future?
I want to continue to raise autism awareness any way I can in hopes that I can help educate people to be more understanding and compassionate toward others with autism or other idiosyncrasies. Different doesn’t mean bad, it’s just different. Acceptance is so important. Everyone can learn from each other if you allow yourself to be open to it.
I want to make a difference in this world. I have a few things in mind that I’d like to accomplish. I’ll share those at a later date.
I also have several books I’d like to write. Two of them are being written and published right now. I want my family to stay healthy, happy and very connected with each other. Oh…and world peace.