15 Celebs Whose Special Needs Kids Turned Them Into Activists (PHOTOS)

15 Celebs Whose Special Needs Kids Turned Them Into Activists (PHOTOS)

No family is immune to challenges, and celebs with special needs children know this all too well, whether their kids have autism or something as rare as Angelman syndrome. But some celebs do much more than cope: Their kids' struggles, perseverance, and triumphs have inspired them to start foundations, raise millions for research non-profits or even speak up to their hordes of followers on social media.


Here are 15 stars who were motivated to become activists while raising their own special needs child—whether they're standing up for kids like them on Twitter; empowering those with developmental disabilities; or even opening a school for children of all abilities. Each has proven that love truly is the strongest force.  

Image @ infusny-146/Corbis 

  • Holly Robinson Peete


    Image @  Splash News/Corbis

    You know her from hit shows like Hangin' with Mr. Cooper and 21 Jump Street, but you may not know that Holly Robinson Peete co-founded (with former NFL quarterback husband, Rodney Peete) the HollyRod Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing compassionate care to individuals with autism. The Peetes' oldest son, Rodney Peete Jr., was diagnosed with autism at age 3.


  • Sarah Palin


    Image @ Jack Kurtz/Corbis

    Controversy seems to penetrate every aspect of Sarah Palin's life, even when it comes to her son Trig, who has Down syndrome. She hit Twitter to defend Trig when Bill Maher used the slur "retarded" to refer to the boy, and she blasted British biologist Richard Dawkins after he tweeted that women should abort fetuses with Down syndrome. Then she made a controversial move herself, by backing an Ohio bill that would ban such abortions.


  • Jenny McCarthy


    Image @ infusny-146/Corbis 

    Jenny McCarthy is president of Generation Rescue, an organization that provides guidance and support for families with autistic children.  McCarthy's son Evan was diagnosed with autism in 2005 and while her belief that vaccines are responsible for her son's condition isn't universally accepted, she has nonetheless done an incredible job of raising awareness for autism. 

  • Greg Grunberg


    Image © Armando Gallo/Corbis

    He may have been shocked at finding out that his son has epilepsy, but, boy, did Heroes' Greg Grunberg make a quick recovery. Grunberg runs the most engaging celeb website, period: Talkaboutit.org. Packed with great graphics and video of famous folks who give information and advice on how to deal with epilepsy, it is modern and effective.

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  • Christopher Gorham


    Image @ Rob Latour/Corbis

    Covert Affair's blind special ops agent is even more impressive in real life. After his son Lucas was diagnosed with Asperger's, Gorham delved into activism, taking awareness to the next level by starring as a single dad with an autistic son in the movie Po. He once described his son as being just like everyone else: "I don't think of him as my son with Asperger's. I think of him as my son. He's not wrong. He's not broken.  He is who he is." 

  • Jorge Posada


    Image @ Ray Stubblebine/Corbis

    When his son Jorge Luis was born with craniosynostosis, former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada launched a self-named foundation offering family support and research into the condition--which deforms the skull and can hinder intellectual and physical development. Posada and wife Laura also co-wrote The Beauty of Love: A Memoir of Miracles, Hope and Healing, which recounts the  family's journey through Jorge Jr.'s numerous surgeries and the condition's lasting effects

  • Gary Cole


    Image @ RD / Kirkland/Corbis

    Although he's best known for his hilarious turns in hit films like Office Space and the hit HBO comedies Veep and Entourage, Gary Cole has a serious side. After the actor's daughter Mary was diagnosed with  autism spectrum disorder in 1995, Cole became a devoted spokesman for non-profits like Autism Speaks and The Help Group, for which he recorded a touching public service ad.

  • Jourdan Dunn


    Image @ Steve Finn / Splash News

    She is a top-earning model and the face of Maybelline New York, but the British model says her career comes second to her son, Riley, who has sickle cell anemia--a debilitating blood disorder that causes extreme pain and arrested development. "I make sure my son is my main priority no matter what.  I will put that over any job," said Dunn, an ambassador for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America.  

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  • Laura San Giacomo


    Image @ Nate Beckett/Corbis 

    Disappointed by the educational choices offered to her son, who has celebral palsy, Just Shoot Me actress Laura San Giacomo started a an inclusive school for children of all abilities in Southern California. ”Everyone goes to school together all day long; kids who happen to have disabilities, typical kids and gifted kids sitting side by side in the classroom,” Giacomo says. 

  • Dan Marino


    Image via Facebook

    Hall of Fame former NFL quarterback Dan Marino's greatest achievement may have come off the field: The Dan Marino Foundation, which he and wife, Claire, started in 1992 following son Michael's autism diagnosis at age 2, has raised more than $50 million for research as well as the creation of a comprehensive care center and a college for autistic adults, both in Miami.

  • Colin Farrell


    Image @Ik Aldama/Corbis

    He may have a reputation as a bad boy, but Colin Farrell is also a dedicated father with a big heart. He has become the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeautics' most high-profile spokesman, bringing attention to the rare but devastating neuro-genetic condition that affects his son James. The disease causes intellectual disability, and seizures. Nevertheless, Farrell says, "He has enriched my life."

  • Toni Braxton


    Image © Jerome Pearson/Splash News/Corbis

    She may have once made a bizarre comment about her son's autism being a punishment from God for having an abortion, but the Grammy-winning singer, whose son Diezel was dianosed with autism in 2006, has raised money and awareness for the disorder and says the organization Autism Speaks, for which she is a spokesperson, helped her see that she was not at fault.

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  • Jacqueline Laurita


    Image @ Debby Wong/Corbis

    Much of Real Housewives of New Jersey is silly, but Jacqueline Laurita is smartly using the show's huge audience to educate people about autism. "I love having the opportunity to be able to show people because what's given me strength is listening to everyone else's stories, their struggles, their successes," Laurita says. "If I can do that for someone else, then that feels so good to me." 





  • John Schneider


    Image @ Kabik/Corbis

    His son's Chasen's Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis led Smallville's John Schneider, who had long been active in other aspects of children's advocacy, to promote awareness and early detection of Asperger's and other forms of autism through organizations like Actors for Autism. 

  • Joe Mantegna


    Image © Fred Prouser/Reuters/Corbis

    The Criminal Minds actor, whose daughter Mia (far left in the picture on the left) is autistic, works closely with Autism Families Together Network, an organization founded by his wife, Arlene Vrhel. He's also hosted a golf tournament for Achievable Foundation, which assists people with autism to lead independent lives. He calls his adult daughter, who is not able to process abstract concepts like hate and jealousy, "pure in spirit."

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