"I don't want to come across like a preacher," says McCarthy (with Evan, 5, in Malibu). "All I'm doing is showing there are things you can do to ease autism."
For years Jenny McCarthy promoted herself as an uninhibited good-time girl – Playboy Playmate, raunchy comic actress, author of frankly funny books on pregnancy and motherhood. But she was just another terrified mom in 2004 when her son Evan, then 2 1/2, suffered a series of life-threatening seizures – and was eventually diagnosed with autism. "Holding my convulsing baby as he tried to breathe," recalls McCarthy, 34. "From that day on, I was not who I was before."
What she became was single-minded in her quest to find help for Evan, an odyssey she recounts in Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism. It's a story of endless doctor visits, hours of Internet searches ("the University of Google," McCarthy calls it) and a marriage – to actor-director John Asher – strained beyond repair. But ultimately, McCarthy says, "my story is about hope."
Indeed, after rigorous therapy at UCLA and some controversial alternative treatments – including removing wheat, dairy, yeast and sugar from his diet – Evan, now 5, is vastly improved. Though he remains on anti-seizure medication, "he's in a typical school – he's incredibly social," says McCarthy. Cured? "I think Evan is in recovery," says Sarah Clifford Scheflen, a speech-language pathologist at UCLA and Evan's therapist since 2005. With autism, a neurological disorder that impairs ability to communicate and relate to others, "early intervention is huge," Scheflen says, "and Evan received that."
In an excerpt from her book and an interview with West Coast Deputy Bureau Chief Bryan Alexander (to whom she also opens up about the new man in her life, Jim Carrey), Evan's mother recalls their journey.