Along with being known for her voice, songstress Toni Braxton has also been long recognized as a strong advocate for autism awareness due to her 13-year-old son, Diezel, being diagnosed with the disability as a toddler. However, many of her fans, especially the ones with children who are autistic, are calling her out today for making quite the surprising claim during an interview with Access Hollywood.
During a sit-down on Thursday with the entertainment news program, the Braxton Family Values co-star touched on Diezel’s disorder and mentioned that after many years of treatment and doctor’s visits, he was no longer on the autism spectrum.
“My youngest son, everyone knows, suffers from, or I should say, suffered from autism,” she expressed. “I am one of the lucky parents. Early diagnosis changes everything. I will tell you this. I will shout it from the rooftops. My son Diezel is off the spectrum.”
Braxton partially attributes the cure to the help and influence of the late Susan Wright, a co-founder of Autism Speaks, who died on July 29.
“When she found out about my son, she called me immediately and said ‘Get him in this program. Do this, do that,’” Toni shared. “She’s been an advocate in helping me so much. I miss her already. I mean, I can’t believe she’s gone.”
Autism, occasionally noted as autism spectrum disorder, is an impairment of a brain’s natural development that can lead to trouble with social interaction, verbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. An early diagnosis can greatly affect how a child develops, and with the right treatment, they can go on to live natural and normal lives. However, there is no known cure for autism, and despite what Braxton is claiming, many have expressed that her rhetoric of Diezel being “off the spectrum” doesn’t help the cause.
Initially mentioned by Madame Noire, several readers of the site have already taken Toni to task for her thoughts.
“Being the mother of an autistic child myself, [I know that] it cannot be cured,” says Marsha Shand. “If your child is on the lighter end of the spectrum, it is much like putting glasses on a near or far sighted child. Can the child see correctly now? Yes. Is his/her condition cured? No. Same with the lighter end of the spectrum. If the condition is caught early, and the person is worked with, it can be controlled, and maybe even corrected, but it cannot be cured.”
Despite Braxton’s intent for sharing such news, this is not the first time that her comments on Diezel’s autism diagnosis have been questioned. In her memoir Unbreak My Heart, which was named after her signature tune, Toni stated that she initially believed that Diezel’s autism was a punishment from God after she aborted a previous pregnancy.
“In my heart, I believed I had taken a life,” she wrote, as shared by Us Weekly, “an action that I thought God might one day punish me for. My initial rage was quickly followed by another strong emotion: guilt. I knew I’d taken a life [and] I believed God’s payback was to give my son autism.”
As for how Diezel’s doing now, Toni marveled that he’s just like any other teenager nowadays.
“He’s our social butterfly. He’s the one who plays with friends and hangs out all the time. [I’m] very, very fortunate. I don’t like to think there’s anything wrong with our babies. I just think they learn differently.”
Toni Braxton is currently gearing up for her upcoming “Hits” tour, which kicks off in Oakland, California, this October. Braxton Family Values, which centers on Toni’s relationship with her family, airs Thursday nights on WE-TV. Feel free to check out Toni’s Access Hollywood interview above (the comments on autism begin around the 2:20 mark).
[Photo by Brad Barket/Stringer/Getty Images]