The actress discusses the day she realized his condition – and how they're coping

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 18, 2007 05:55 PM
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Jenny McCarthy vividly remembers the harrowing realization three years ago that her son Evan, now 5, had autism.

“It started with hand flapping,” McCarthy, 34, told Oprah Winfrey on Tuesday’s show. There were other telltale indications in her child’s behavior, but as McCarthy said, “You only look for the good signs.”

Then came the day when Evan suffered a seizure, which doctors – once she got him to the hospital – blamed on a fever. Three weeks later, however, Evan got “a stoned look on his face” while McCarthy and the boy were visiting her parents.

This was another seizure, she thought, “but this one is different. He’s not convulsing.” Instead, “foam was coming out of his mouth, (and) and after a few minutes, I felt his heart stop,” she said.

When the paramedics arrived, she told them about Evan’s heart. “They looked at me like I was crazy. I don’t know why,” she said. Only, as they discovered for themselves, the child’s heart was no longer beating, so they administered CPR.

“Why, God? Why me … Why? Why? Why?” McCarthy recalled thinking in those desperate moments, but then, she said, an inner voice came over her. “Everything’s going to come out okay.”

Because there was no pediatric hospital near her parents’ home, Evan and McCarthy drove three hours back to Los Angeles, during which time Evan suffered several more seizures.

Initially, neurologists believed Evan had epilepsy, by McCarthy’s “mommy instinct,” as she called it, thought that not to be the case. Finally, a doctor said to her, “‘I’m sorry, but your son has autism.’ My mommy instinct said, ‘This man is right.’ I didn’t want to believe him … but … this man is right. I felt like death.”

McCarthy, however, sprung into action. She researched autism on the Internet and was struck by a message that popped up in a corner of the screen. Autism, it told her, “is reversible and treatable.”

She worked diligently with her son, putting him on a wheat-free, dairy-free and artificial-additive-free diet to detox his system, and her mantra – which she says is producing results – is “hope, faith, recovery.”

McCarthy, who first revealed Evan’s condition last May on The View, has put her experiences down in a just-published book, Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism.

Evan is McCarthy’s son with director John Asher. The couple divorced in 2005, after six years of marriage – which, McCarthy told Winfrey, was strained because of their son’s condition.

But, McCarthy also said, there’s a new man in her life: Jim Carrey. “He’s the ‘funny, cute guy’ in the book,” she told Winfrey and the TV audience. And, she stressed, he is there for Evan.

On the Web site for the Oprah show, McCarthy and actress Holly Robinson Peete, who has discussed her own child’s autism with PEOPLE, will answer questions related to the condition. Click here.

“Keep going,” said McCarthy as final advice to parents of autistic children. “And we’re going to be there online.”

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