By Nina Radcliff, MD
In 2006, Jacqueline Laurita became a household name as one of the original cast member’s of Bravo’s hit reality television series The Real Housewives of New Jersey. But her success does not stop there. In addition to being a mother, wife, beauty expert, and savvy businesswoman, her greatest challenge has been her son Nicholas’ diagnosis with autism. Jacqueline has masterfully used her celebrity status as a platform for autism awareness and has touched the hearts and lives of millions. She chose not to make her family’s challenge smaller, but to make herself bigger. Millennium Magazine’s Nina Radcliff, MD met with Jacqueline Laurita at her Franklin Lakes home in New Jersey to learn more about one of state’s most popular housewives.
MM: Are you a native to New Jersey?
JL: I was born in New Jersey, but traveled the country and the world before returning to my birth state. My dad was a Colonel in the Army and we lived in Germany for three years and even Korea. These experiences have helped me become well-rounded, resilient, and learn about different cultures. Every place offered something different. And hopping from place to place taught me to adjust.
MM: You never highlighted the fact that you are a licensed cosmetologist on RHONJ. Can you tell us more about it and how you have stayed engaged in the business of beauty.
JL: I have been a cosmetologist for over 20 years. I have done many beauty product reviews for consulting companies and worked hands on with chemists and formulators on beauty products. I’ve been featured as a beauty expert in many magazines as well. I’ve researched the beauty industry and have attended trade shows for years.
I am working on launching a beauty website called Altruistic Beauty (www.altruisticbeauty.com) which will be launching in the near future. Lots of mothers and women are altruistic—they are unselfishly devoted to the well-being of others. They dedicate all of their time to husbands, jobs, children, and put everyone else before themselves. And sometimes you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others…better. You need that downtime for yourself so you can energize and go back in and fight harder.
MM: Tell us about how you met your husband Chris.
JL: I was modeling at a national trade show in Chicago and wearing a baseball cap, T-shirt, biker shorts, and high top sneakers. When I saw Chris, he was very quiet andseemed shy. My coworker suggested we meet Chris and his brothers out after work the day we met. Chris’s brother knew my co-worker’s sister. So, she told me they were good guys and said that Chris said he wouldn’t go unless I went. I was intrigued. So I went. At dinner, we talked all night and had an instant connection. As though we knew each other forever. We talked and talked, and exchanged numbers.
MM: You were living in Nevada. Where was he living?
JL: In New Jersey. We grew a friendship and long-distance relationship for 5 years. During that time we would do things like rent the same movie, and start watching it together. But distance did take its toll and we broke up for almost one year. I was miserable, tried dating, and realized that I needed him in my life. When we reconnected, Chris flew out and made a surprise proposal to me in front of my daughter Ashley.
MM: What was your response? What was going through your head?
JL: I was concerned about uprooting my daughter and moving away from my parents, but I knew I had to say yes. If not I would have always wondered what if. And I didn’t want to live with that. If I don’t try it I will never know. We were engaged for one year before me, Chris, and Ashley drove in a 45-foot RV cross-country in three days.
MM: Did you have a big wedding?
JL: We planned on having a destination wedding, but we had a little surprise. When we arrived in New Jersey, our current home was being built and we stayed with Caroline Manzo, Chris’ sister. After living with Caroline for 4 months, we got pregnant with CJ. It was a welcome surprise. Although we were not planning, we knew we wanted a large family. After all Chris came from a family of 11 siblings!
Instead, we got married in a gazebo in a local park. My parents were on speakerphone and I wore a pantsuit. I didn’t care. I just wanted to be married to Chris.
MM: In addition to everything you do, you also manage to contribute to your husband’s business.
JL: Chris is the president of blk Beverages. blk is the first ever fulvic-enhanced all-natural mineral water. It provides serious hydration with powerful electrolytes and a high pH. Despite not having any sugar, carbohydrates, or calories, it also tastes good. It “defies your expectations.” blk sells nationally and internationally.They partnered with Big Geyser, which is one of the largest distributors of premium non-alcoholic beverages and snacks in the country. blk also comes in 4 flavors. You can find it nationally in many grocery chains and local stores. Including Whole Foods, GNC, and some 7/11’s.
We also contribute a portion of the proceeds to Generation Rescue, the leading national organization that provides hope, information, and immediate treatment assistance to families affected by autism spectrum disorders. I will jump in as a family and do appearances for blk.
MM: How did you get involved with The Real Housewives?
JL: The producers went to a local salon looking for a group of women for a show called “Jersey Moms.” They were seeking women who had interesting lifestyles or were affluent. The owners of the salon gave the producers my number and when they called me, we spoke for 2.5 hours and then asked for an in-person interview. The rest is history.
MM: Why do you think the viewers and fans connect so readily with you?
JL: I’m “relatable.” My fertility struggles. Feuding with my daughter. Friendship fighting. Being open with my life. When you put down your walls and be yourself, someone will connect with you and relate with you. I’m okay with not being perfect.
MM: Do you have any regrets about the show?
JL: None. Bad things shape you into who you are. Of course I ask myself why did I lose control? Everyone has those moments, but here it was caught on camera and highlighted for everyone to see. It helps with personal growth. I did not always like what I said or did. But I learned and have no regrets. And I have used my public image as a platform to push forth autism awareness.
MM: You have stated that nothing could prepare you for your son Nicholas’ diagnosis with autism. Can you share with us what you experienced?
JL: It was a crash course. When we first noticed that there was something going on I started researching. Any and everything I could get my hands on. We had to wait for three months to get an appointment with a developmental pediatrician for a diagnosis. I found a website called www.Autismspeaks.com an
We also learned about the GF/CF diet and taking supplements. Our first goal was to get our child the healthiest he could be from the inside out so he could respond his best to his therapies. Jenny McCarthy and Candace McDonald from Generation Rescue led us to a great doctor in California to help get us started.
I realized I had to do something now and didn’t have time to wait. But the only thing we could control was research, diet, and supplements.
MM: You have been very candid that after the diagnosis you cried….
JL: I went home, hugged my husband, and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. I cried for myself; I cried for my husband; I cried for my other kids, and I cried for my Nicholas. After that one-day grieving period, I woke up the next morning focused on bringing out the best Nicholas that he could be.
MM: You were actually filming The Real Housewives while all of this was transpiring.
JL: It was difficult filming season 3 and 4 when Nicholas was regressing and before he was diagnosed. Our focus changed. And what was important has changed. Priorities. Who was copying someone else’s eye shadow was no longer meaningful. The show did provide me with a platform for raising autism awareness. And the amount of people who reached out was huge.
MM: Your decision to share Nicholas’ diagnosis has helped so many people. What made you decide to do this?
JL: We were not ashamed of our son. And we don’t want to raise our son to ever be ashamed of it either. The diagnosis is just one piece of who he is as a whole individual. And when we made it public, so many people reached out to us. Letters, emails, social media poured in to provide us with support and encouragement and information and sharing their journey. It helped us so much and gave us so much strength and hope. And I do not know what I would have done without it. Today, I want to give back to someone else, and do what others did for us. I want to turn around and share with others.
MM: Can you tell us how have you given back?
JL: I share information, resources and answer questions through social media and through many emails. I also do a lot of charity work to network with other families who are going through it and provide support and guidance. www.JacquelineLaurita.com will provide information and resources as well. I am working on expanding and making lists of all the resources and what helped me. I want to provide whatever I have learned and put it all out there so someone can take from it. I learned so much from others, and if I can offer something that is something I have to do. I also contribute to a blog for Parenting Magazine. It is a frank and candid discussion of our experiences. I don’t claim to be an expert, just a parent who can convey what they have gone through. Recently, I was named the first celebrity ambassador for autismhopealliance.com. I am very excited about this.
MM: Are there any books in the works?
JL: Chris and I are working with the literary agent, Sterling Lord, on a book titled Defy Expectations to talk about our journey with our son’s diagnosis. The title reflects our firm belief that you should never let anyone tell you something is not possible. Anything is possible if you believe and persevere. Never give up!
What worked for someone else may not work for you. There’s a quote: “If you’ve met A child with autism, you’ve met A child with autism. Each and every one of them is so wonderfully different.” You have to find something else. You got to see how your child’s brain works. That’s how you get into their world and that’s what makes the connection. Hopefully our story will help someone else.
See Video Interview Here! http://youtu.be/iP1THoOlAVo