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No, Kelly Preston is Not Rebelling Against Scientology By Acknowledging Autism

Much is being made in the press that today, Kelly Preston will appear on television and for the first time acknowledge that her late son Jett Travolta was autistic.

Jett died in 2009 after having a seizure in a bathtub while the family was in its Bahamian estate. At the time, a family spokesman confirmed that Jett had been prescribed anti-seizure medicine, but his parents — actors John Travolta and Preston, longtime Scientologists — had taken him off the medicine.

In the years since, the press has insisted that in Scientology, autism is a fiction of the evil psychiatry industry, which is why Travolta and Preston could never admit that their son suffered from it and instead promoted the idea that he had a rare condition called Kawasaki disease. Acknowledging publicly that their son was actually autistic, it was believed, would go against their religious beliefs.

And now that Preston is finally using the word “autism” in public, reporters are characterizing it as a “rebellion” against Scientology (just as they did when Travolta used the word a few years ago).

Here at The Underground Bunker, however, we noticed long ago that Preston is often trotted out to talk about her diet successes and other frippery whenever the church is in dire need of some positive publicity. Could she really now be speaking out in a way that challenges the church? Is Preston beginning to break away from her role as Scientology happy person?

Um, no.


Although reporters, after Jett’s death, took it as gospel that Scientology “doesn’t believe” in autism, Scientology itself denied that that was true.

In 2009, Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis was asked flat out if Scientology’s scriptures prevent its members from acknowledging the existence of autism. Here was his reply…

This [idea] that the church has some [position] about autism, that it doesn’t exist, is just not true. The church has never made any such statement. The bottom line here is the church does not involve itself in the diagnosis or classification of any medical condition. It’s just not something the church does.

We’ve never stated any such thing, that autism doesn’t, you know, [we don’t] recognize autism. It’s medicine. The church deals with the spirit. If people have a medical problem or a physical ailment, they go to a doctor. It’s church policy that they do so and they get that addressed.

Tommy’s response was generally ignored. Of course, Tommy could lie like a rug, so it was easy to disregard his insistence that Scientology has nothing to say about autism.

And it’s not like Scientology doesn’t have a long, wacky track record with medical treatments. More than a decade ago, we wrote about Tory Christman, who spent 30 years in the church and struggled with Scientology’s approach to her epilepsy.

Christman told us that it was Scientology doctrine that her medical condition was caused by “body thetans” — disembodied alien souls brought to Earth 75 million years ago — and that she was encouraged not to take medicine but to “handle” her epilepsy with Scientology auditing.

As mindblowing as that diagnosis is, however, it doesn’t deny that epilepsy exists.

Tommy Davis’s former boss, Mike Rinder, tells me Scientology feels the same way about autism.

“Your Tory example is exactly right. It’s the disagreement with the methods of treatment,” Rinder says. Scientology doesn’t deny that psychiatric ailments exist, but instead takes issue with how to deal with them. “[The church says] don’t take Prozac for depression — find the cause. It’s what started Tom Cruise in his idiotic PR disaster about Brooke Shields taking medication for post-partum depression. That was the ‘Matt, you’re glib, I know the history of psychiatry’ incident,” Rinder said to us in an e-mail.

“I haven’t really followed this, but I saw some blog headline about how she is rebelling against Scientology because she said Jett had autism. All I could think when I read it was WTF? I’ve never heard that autism ‘doesn’t exist’ in Scientology. Whatever their reasons for not acknowledging it in the past I don’t think has anything to do with any ‘Scientology dictate’ about psychiatry,” Rinder says.

Rinder characterized press assumptions about Preston rebelling against the church as “reading tea leaves.” He compared it to seeing Tom Cruise wearing Ray-Bans and then announcing that Cruise was leaving Scientology to revert to his Risky Business days.

“And frankly, I find the whole subject of their son’s death and whatever they have to say about it becoming gossip fodder rather unsavory. Whatever they think or don’t think, their son, who they loved, died. At least leave them in peace on that subject, god knows they don’t get much slack about anything in their life.”

Preston, in today’s show, “The Doctors,” talks about Kawasaki disease and other factors that she believes may have caused Jett’s autism. That should produce endless debate — just as any discussion about the causes of autism has a tendency to do.

We don’t think it’s worth much time debating whether Preston is right or wrong about what caused Jett’s autism. But we’re very certain the notion that she’s rebelling against Scientology for even using the word “autism” is just flat out wrong.

OK, now we’d like to hear what you think. Let us have it.

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