Why It Matters if Jett Travolta Was Autistic

By Claudia Kalb

In the aftermath of his son Jett's death, John Travolta told Bahamian police that Jett had autism. This according to police reports published by the National Enquirer (which, while not the most respected news source, have gotten scoops on big stories. They also pay their sources, which helps them obtain documents like these). If true, this admission marks a long-awaited moment.

Hollywood types and autism advocates had been speculating about Jett's condition for years before the 16-year-old died in January. Critics accused the Travoltas, who are Scientologists, of denying their son's condition and, possibly, denying him appropriate care. Many of them went as far as diagnosing Jett themselves. On one site, a user posted a YouTube clip of the Travolta family in the streets of Paris. Labeled, "Video proof of Jett Travolta's autism," the clip showed what the user claimed were tell-tale signs of autism, including the "100 Mile Look." Despite all the chatter, the Travolta's insisted that their son had Kawasaki Disease, an inflammation of the blood vessels. Even after his death, they never mentioned autism.

Why does it matter now? Over at Gawker, the commenters are decrying the site's decision to publicize the news as an "in your face, Scientology!" kind of expose. Says commenter user_21938, "There are plenty of other opportunities to highlight the flaws and idiocy of Scientology. You can afford to leave the Travoltas alone."

This alleged statement is important—but not because it exposes a supposed inconsistency in Travolta's faith. The autism world is filled with controversies: over vaccines, over treatments, over diagnostic labels. The uproars cause infighting, the infighting stalls progress. If Jett was autistic, at least the Travolta hoopla—which consumed a significant amount of time and energy in certain circles of the autism world—can come to an end.

Consensus on Jett's diagnosis could inspire some much-needed kindness and support in the autism world, for both the Travolta's and for the entire autism community. Travolta also has star power, of course, and his acknowledgment, no matter how private, could help eliminate the rampaging stigma that too often accompanies the condition.

Something good should come out of Jett Travolta's tragic death. In this case, a public acknowledgment of autism—along with the end of some nasty, speculative, counter-productive infighting—might just be it. It would raise awareness and put a face to the disorder: the face of a young man who was loved not for his diagnosis, but for who he was.

Why It Matters if Jett Travolta Was Autistic | News