A ‘Real Housewives of SLC’ cast member quits the show to care for her autistic son

Angie Harrington decided she couldn’t be a reality TV star and a good mother.

(Manicproject) Angie Harrington, who appeared for two seasons on "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City," and her 4-year-old son, Hart.

“The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” has always been somewhat different from the other shows in the franchise. It deals more with religion. It’s more ethnically diverse. Racism has been an issue.

And, in the ultimate Utah angle, a cast member has quit the show because of her family.

The show’s producers were hoping that Angie Harrington would return for the upcoming Season 4, but she declined — so that she can devote her time to her 4-year-old son, Hart, who has been diagnosed with autism. After much consideration, she decided she couldn’t be both a reality-show star and a good mother.

“I highly underestimated how demanding it would be to have a kid with special needs,” she said. “And when you do television — reality TV, specifically — there’s a lot of drama.”

In addition to the time she spent away from home filming episodes, she found herself obsessing about why one (or more) of the other Housewives was mad at her, and what she might have done wrong. About how she came off in the episodes. “And so you go to bed at night just consumed by it,” Harrington said.

Harrington definitely stirred things up on the past two seasons of “RHOSLC.” She fought with Jen Shah and Lisa Barlow, and allied herself with Heather Gay, Meredith Marks and Whitney Rose. And she hoped to share her son’s diagnosis and what that meant to her family, but she said that if she’d stayed on the show, “I was going to be consumed with too many other things. I wasn’t going to be able to wholeheartedly give him what he needed.”

She wrestled with the decision for three weeks, consulting with Gay and Marks. “They wanted me back on because you need allies,” Harrington said with a laugh. “I think it was hard for them. But. of course, they were supportive. No one’s going to say, ‘Don’t go spend time with your son.’”

Once she made the decision, she said, “it was a lot easier. I knew I had made the right choice.”

(Manicproject) Rome, Chris Harrington, Hart, Angie Harrington and Cole.

The autism diagnosis

Harrington has two teenage sons from her first marriage; her husband, Chris, has three kids from his first marriage. And they were thrilled when she got pregnant with Hart.

By the time he was 9 months old, Hart was “walking super-fast,” Harrington said. By 10 months, he was running. “And we were, like, ‘Well, this is different.’ We just thought, ‘OK, he’s very advanced physically,’ but then we realized he was very slow to talk.”

When he was about 14 months old, they were comparing Hart to his nephew, who is 10 days younger than he is. (“Only in Utah. Only in a step family,” Harrington said.) Hart wasn’t talking nearly as much. When they called him by name, he didn’t turn to look. When they took him out in public, “he would bolt in any direction he could and not even look back. There was this lack of fear that I had never experienced with my other two boys. And it’s very typical with autistic children.”

Hart also ran “full speed” toward ponds when they visited parks. (It’s common for autistic children to be fascinated by water.) “So I was constantly sweating bullets, swearing I would never take him out again.”

She knew that Hart was different, but autism didn’t occur to her. “I just thought he was a very determined child,” she said. That is until she mentioned Hart’s behavior to their pediatrician, who suggested he be tested for autism.

This was during the pandemic, so Hart was tested over Zoom, and the results were inconclusive. “So we had to wait another year,” she said. In November 2022, “we took him to the doctor’s office, and they diagnosed it within a couple hours. And Chris and I were, like, ‘Hold on. Aren’t you going to go think about this for a while?’ We weren’t prepared for that.

“It was heavy. And you go through a mourning process, for sure. I think I’m still in it. And just when I think, ‘No, I’ve got this,’ I’m, like, ‘No, wait, I’m still accepting that he may never get married, he may never have children.”

(Manicproject) Angie Harrington plays with her son, Hart.

Grateful for what they have

Hart’s future is unclear at this point. His mom said she knows that he could grow up, get a job, get married and have children when he’s an adult. Or he could do none of those things.

“That’s the wild thing with autism,” Harrington said. “You have some kids who run in circles all day and won’t even look at you or speak, and then you have other people, like Elon Musk, who are insanely successful. So you just never know what autism is going to look like.”

She’s grateful for what she has with Hart. “Time will tell, but he’s verbal. He communicates. He looks at us. He snuggles with us,” she said. “So we feel very grateful, because we know there are some people whose children — they can’t even touch them until they fall asleep. Which is heartbreaking.

“But I don’t know what that’s going to look like for him later.”

Hopes to bring awareness

Caring for Hart has “completely taken over my life. Hence, not doing the show,” Harrington said. “I have tried to use this opportunity to draw awareness, because I know from personal experience, awareness helps folks with autism — and it also helps caregivers.”

She said she “wrestled” with the idea of going public with this, ultimately deciding, “I’m already a public figure on some level, and people are going to know. And I may as well be an advocate to help give these kids a better life. … My husband and I have the means and the connections to make a difference. And that outweighed whether I keep it private or not.”

She said she hopes that by going public with her son’s autism, she can encourage other families to get their children tested and get them into therapy as soon as possible.

Right now, she’s doing interviews like this one to spread the word about what it can be like to have an autistic child — though, as she acknowledges, every child with autism is different.

“I’ll continue down this path in any way I can help. Maybe it’s because I was raised in the Utah culture that is very service-oriented,” she said. “That’s always been very important to me — when you’re given a lot, you need to give back a lot.”

(She also readily acknowledged she has “the luxury of not having to work. I understand not everyone has that.”)

Harrington recently joined the board of the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism at Utah Valley University, which supports and funds scholarships to autistic students.

“My husband’s very dialed into the business community here in Utah, specifically tech,” she said. “So we’re going to start trying to fundraise for them and help get students more scholarships.”

She said she also hopes to encourage other people to be more patient and understanding of families dealing with autism.

“I have PTSD from airplane rides,” because Hart has “absolute meltdowns, slamming hands and fists on the seat in front of him. And people are turning around, saying, ‘Keep your kid the f--- away from me,’” Harrington said. “I want people to understand that when people — adults or children — are acting this way, it’s not always what meets the eye. It’s not typically a lack of discipline. These people are dealing with real sensory issues.”

As a result of Hart’s difficulties with air travel, the family is no longer traveling the way they once did. “But it’s OK. It’s something I’m still mourning, but I’m accepting,” she said.

She pointed to an essay by Emily Perle Kingsley — a metaphor about the experience of raising a child with a disability: You spend years dreaming about and planning a trip to Italy, and suddenly finding yourself in Holland instead. “And Holland is not as exciting or as fast-paced. Not as glamorous,” Harrington said. “But you start to go, ‘Holland’s got beautiful flowers, Holland’s got windmills.’ This is my new normal. And I accept it for all the beauty and everything that it is. But the adjustment is really challenging. Really challenging.”

She’s fielding offers of television and podcast appearances. “Right now, like I said, I don’t have the time. And so goes the life of any caregiver, whether your child is neurotypical or not,” Harrington said. “These opportunities are wonderful, and we’ll see where they lead. But I have to wait for the dust to settle a little more.

“If my son takes to this therapy program and gets into regular or even autistic elementary school and is thriving there, then maybe I have more time to look into some of these options. Time will tell.”

She was asked back

Back in 2020, there were rumors that Harrington would be one of the regulars on “RHOSLC.” But, she said, that was never true.

“My initial instinct was, ‘Don’t do it.’ And there are times I go, ‘Yeah, maybe I should have listened to that,’” she said with a laugh. “But then I had friends on the show really trying to encourage me.”

Barlow “really tried” to talk Harrington into auditioning for Season 1, but she declined. “I was pregnant, and it didn’t make sense,” Harrington said. “So then, Season 2, I was, like, ‘OK, let’s give it a go.’”

(The irony is that she and Barlow have since had a major falling out and are no longer on speaking terms.)

Harrington was surprised when she was cast as a “friend” in Season 2. She thought it would be “fun” and “bring opportunities.” She hoped it would be a “powerful platform” to “raise awareness” for autism.

After two seasons as a “friend” of the Housewives — a recurring role that didn’t feature her in every episode — it was a “hard choice” for Harrington to decline the producers’ invitation to return.

“They came to me and said, ‘We’d love to have you back,” Harrington said. “And we’d love to share your son’s story, because I had confided in them what was going on. And kudos to them for being willing to bring awareness.”

But she ultimately decided she needed to devote her time to her family.

(Manicproject) Angie Harrington plays with her son, Hart.

“I’m not going to get these years back,” Harrington said. Hart is in therapy 35 hours a week “to kind of catch him up to neurotypical children. So I knew I was going to be in my house all the time.”

It was also a matter “brain capacity, for sure. Because the older I get, the more exhausted I get. There’s only so much room you can handle.” And the show “was taking me away from what I really have to focus on right now.”

She has lots of questions

Although she’s done a considerable amount of research about autism, Harrington doesn’t pretend she’s an expert. She’s still trying to figure out what’s best for her son.

“There’s this constant pressure of ‘am I doing everything right? Am I feeding him the right foods? Am I doing the right therapy?’” Harrington said. “The pressure is never-ending.”

She said she has discovered that some experts believe children can never get off the spectrum, while others believe they can.

“I cannot tell you how much research I’m doing, how much I’m studying, how much my brain is fried trying to figure it out,” she said. “Or is this just who he is, and I can’t change it? I’m obviously going to do everything I can to give him the best setup in life. But, I don’t know, there’s so many different doctors throwing out different ideas.”

Family ties

Harrington didn’t step away from “Real Housewives” just because of her youngest son, but because of the rest of her family, too. Her 15-year-old son, Rome, “said to me, ‘Mom, you’re always on the phone with your manager. You’re always on the phone with your friends’ — aka other housewives and producers. ‘I need you to spend more time with me,’” she said. “After he said that, I was, like, ‘I’ve got to pump the brakes for a minute here.’”

She emphasized that she was making the decision for herself, and did not mean any criticism of the other Housewives.

“The other women are in totally different situations. I don’t judge them at all for doing the show,” Harrington said. “If it works for their lifestyle and their family, that’s great. It just didn’t work for mine anymore. ... I think the pressure is next level, and I feel inadequate all the time. I feel like I’m going to fail [Hart] or my other children or my husband. Because of how thin I’m spread right now, I feel like I can’t take care of myself properly.”

Still, she doesn’t regret the time she spent on “RHOSLC” over the past two seasons.

“I try not to live with regret, because I do believe every journey in life teaches you something,” Harrington said. “It gave me a platform to now talk about autism. I have to find the silver lining, because there’s no do-overs.”