Erin Patrice O?Brien
Has the shock worn off yet after Nicholas's diagnosis, or is it an ongoing process? "We don't have the time to be in shock or feel sorry for ourselves. Early intervention is key, and that is what we are focused on: making sure that Nicholas gets all the help he needs. He is too little to make his own choices, so we, as his parents, have to advocate for him."
What are some of the biggest challenges you're facing? "Making sure our picky eater is getting all the additional nutrients he needs, since we keep him strictly on a gluten- free, casein-free, soy-free, chick-pea-flour/garbanzo-bean- free, dairy-free, wheat-free diet! Our goal is to help Nicholas be the healthiest he can be, from the inside out, so that he can feel his best and be more responsive to therapy."
What tips would you give moms in your situation? "Educate yourself! There are plenty of autism websites and support groups. It helps to open up and talk about it with others who can relate. Even though what works for one child might not necessarily work for another, it still might be worth a try, and if you share and exchange your knowledge with others, you may not only be able to help your own child, but you may be able to help someone else."
Has it brought your family closer together? "Absolutely! Everyone does their share. My husband Chris and I both research and discuss our next plan of action with each other. My daughter, Ashlee, who lives in California now, is very supportive from afar. My older son, CJ, is the most supportive, loving, patient brother. Nicholas responds very well to him. They play together."
Unlike last season, are you planning to talk about his diagnosis on your show this year? "Taking care of our child's needs is obviously a huge priority in our lives, so we will be addressing it on the show. However, it'll be addressed with the intentions of bringing awareness to autism. I'm not comfortable with making a spectacle out of my son."
What's it like to open up your life and family to cameras? "I'm comfortable with opening up to the cameras because I know that nobody in this life has it easy all of the time and everyone has their good and bad days. I'm OK with not being perfect or having a perfect life. I like that people can relate to me. I learn from watching myself and others. I think and hope that people will learn from us too."
What's been the best/worst part of being a reality star? "The best part about being a reality star is meeting all of the wonderful people who I may have never met had I not been on the show. People have shared their own life journeys with me, and I feel privileged to have been given that opportunity. The worst part of being a reality TV star is the hateful people who reach out only with the intent to hurt me because they think they know me...but they don't. The cameras are not on us 24/7. People are seeing an edited version of the whole picture. Learn from it, or change the channel."
Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Parents magazine.