Autism doesn’t discriminate, and while the developmental disorder affects people differently it impacts the lives of people everywhere. Autism has no boundaries, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the world’s most famous people are affected too, and many have chosen to speak out to end the stigma associated. Celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, Tommy Hilfiger and Nikki Reed are speaking out in the hopes to raise awareness for the condition.
Below, celebrities who have spoken out about family members with autism.
Known for her roles in the Twilight film series, Nikki has spoken candidly about having a brother on the autism spectrum. Nikki told People in 2015 that her brother “is so high functioning that in many cases, it’s not even detectable.”
“He’s one of the most loving, honest, sensitive and transparent kids I’ve ever known,” she said. “And he’s insanely smart. With a really remarkable memory. He wants people to understand he’s his own person. He doesn’t want a label. And one way of avoiding a label is to spread awareness.”
In 2015, Nikki was named Lindt’s Autism Speaks spokesperson.
In 1982 Sylvester Stallone’s son, Seargeoh, was diagnosed with autism at three-years-old. Stallone and his wife called him the “silent genius” as even though he had problems expressing himself verbally, as a child he used to draw and write letters.
“There is no real father-and-son thing there…I have to become his playmate. With a child like this, you have to put your ego away,” Stallone said of his son. While the diagnosis shattered the family, Stallone did a lot to raise awareness and even donated money to autism research.
Gold Logie winning presenter Waleed Aly gained praise after speaking out on The Project about his son’s autism diagnosis. Discussing a segment about comedian Tom Gleisner’s work with Learning For Life Autism Centre, Aly spoke about how finding out his son Zayd had autism “opened up doors”.
“I know when we got our diagnosis for our son we actually had the opposite reaction to the guy in the package,” Aly said. “I didn’t worry, it didn’t hit me in the face — it actually explained a lot of things and it opened up doors.”
“Then what happens is you’ve got to try and reorientate everything, so that you’re communicating with the kid in a way that actually works with the way their brain works,” Aly explained. “And when you do that and you get those moments where a door opens, and suddenly they do something…your heart just leaps.”
Aly and wife Dr Susan Carland are hoping to raise awareness by speaking out on parenting a child with autism.
Tom Gleisner, an Australian comedian and host of Have You Been Paying Attention? has been raising awareness for autism for years. Alongside his wife Mary Muirhead, Gleisner founded Learning For Life in 2004 and they’ve worked with more than 100 kids with autism to help them better communicate and socialise.
Speaking to The Project, Tom and Mary explained how they came up with the idea: “We had a friend who had a son with autism and they found their way into this form of intensive therapy and we just watched this kid from going from being non-verbal to making enormous strides.”
“The only problem was that it was very expensive…so Tom and I, and four other founders decided that we would like to change that and make it more equitable.”
Designer Tommy Hilfiger has both a teenage daughter and stepson who are on the spectrum. Since their diagnoses, Hilfiger has done a lot to raise awareness and funds for various autism awareness initiatives. Hilfiger has been actively involved with the Autism Speaks Foundation for many years. In 2011 he appeared in a Public Service Announcement for Autism Speaks in honour of his daughter, and also launched a line of clothing tailored to suit children with autism in 2016.
In early 2019, Amy Schumer revealed that her husband was on the autism spectrum. The comedian appeared on an episode of Late Night With Seth Meyers and discussed her decision to go public with her husband Chris Fischer’s diagnosis.
“That’s why we both wanted to talk about it because it’s been totally positive,” she told Meyers. “I think a lot of people resist getting diagnosed and even some of their children because of the stigma that comes along with it.”
It was getting an official diagnosis, Schumer says, that helped her husband come to terms with his disorder. “The tools that we’ve been given has made his life so much better and our marriage and our life more manageable,” she said. “I just wanted to encourage people to not be afraid of that stigma.”