We’re kicking off Autism Awareness month by talking to a celebrity mom who has been living with autism for close to a decade. When Holly Robinson Peete and her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, welcomed their first children – twins Rodney Jackson “RJ” and Ryan – they never imagined that one of them would be diagnosed with autism at the age of three.
Autism affects 1 in 110 children and 1 in 70 boys. Holly sat down with Celebrity Baby Scoop to raise awareness for children and families living with autism: “Children in minority communities go undiagnosed too long.” Holly also encourages parents to “get out of denial quickly,” and “find time for yourself.” Continue reading how this busy mother of four keeps her family and career on track.
CBS: Tell us about your new book, My Brother Charlie. What inspired you to write it?
HRP: “My daughter Ryan inspired me to co-write My Brother Charlie with her. She wanted to advocate for her twin brother who has autism.”
CBS: Your 12-year-old son RJ was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. How have you and your family grown over the past 9 years since RJ’s diagnosis?
HRP: “We grew apart then back together again since our son’s autism diagnosis. It was rough going in the beginning. My husband chronicled our journey in his new book Not My Boy!: A Father, a Son, and One Family’s Journey with Autism. A lot of denial and miscommunication. I am so proud of Rodney and hopeful his book will inspire families affected by autism or any issue during difficult times. We had little hope ten years ago. A book like this would’ve helped us!”
CBS: What are your thoughts on the recent scientific reports conclusively stating that there is no link between childhood vaccinations and autism?
HRP: “So much has been said about this topic already. I’d like to see the spotlight shifted to other less provocative headlines like families struggling to pay for autism treatment, or promoting autism acceptance in schools, or how children in minority communities go undiagnosed too long. There are so many issues that don’t get attention in the media that families struggle with everyday.”
CBS: How is RJ doing these days? What is he into?
HRP: “RJ is going on 13. Loves all sports; MLB especially.
By the way: Puberty plus autism? Challenging! Even more than for typical adolescents. It can cause aggressive behavior and depression. Big transitional hurdle. Another thing you don’t read too much about. We are seeing some regression which is not fun. But he is verbal, affable, he has friends and plays team sports – all of which we were told he’d never do.”
CBS: Do you agree with Jenny McCarthy who says that autism can be healed? Have you done any of the same treatments Jenny did with her son Evan?
HRP: “I agree these kids can get better and improve and I believe in treating the whole child from the inside out not just behaviorally but with a 360 degree approach. When we helped alleviate my son’s GI problems, his language improved. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helped. Some stuff didn’t help. Thank God we could afford to try things. Most families cannot.
In the end though my son is not ‘healed.’ Some folks in the autism community have issues with words like ‘healed,’ ‘cured,’ ‘recovered.’ I don’t mind them but I get why some would. While I’m always thrilled for anyone else’s child’s progress, my son still has autism. And we have adulthood to plan for.”
CBS: What is your best advice to parents with a child who has just been diagnosed with autism?
HRP: “Get out of denial quickly, dial back your expectations for your kid. Arm yourself with info, keep an open mind and stay proactively hopeful and prayerful. Not helpful to hear it now, but you will survive and even thrive through this ride.”
CBS: How are your three other children: Ryan, 12, Robinson, 7 and Roman, 5? What are they into?
HRP: “Ryan is her twin bro’s guardian angel. [She] loves creative writing, Mandarin Chinese and volleyball. Robinson is an athletic prodigy like his dad plus has the acting bug like mom (pray for us!) and Roman loves tee ball, Star Wars and candy.”
CBS: How does Ryan make out in a house-full of boys? Do you find that you raise her differently than the boys?
HRP: “She is sensitive and reluctantly becoming a young lady and I have to talk to her completely differently than I do the guys. She is so much like I was at 12 so I know what she needs to hear. Advantage: Mom! But she savors being the only girl and works daddy like silly putty.”
CBS: What is your best advice for parents who are raising children, one of which has special needs, and one (or more) who do not have special needs?
HRP: “Find time for yourself. If you break down, so does the whole empire.”
CBS: What is your best relationship advice for couples who have a child with special needs?
HRP: “Again, time alone. Guiltlessly! Stop down to focus on each other from time to time. Easy to say, harder to do, but mandatory!”
CBS: Please tell us all about the HollyRod Foundation. Who does it serve? What is the mission?
HRP: “HollyRod provides compassionate care for families who otherwise would have little to no access to treatment. We are building an autism treatment center in Los Angeles where families can affordably treat their children and find other services they need to keep their families functioning. Our vision is to take this template global. It’s unfair that families have to struggle to treat their children with autism.”
CBS: You are starring on Celebrity Apprentice. Do you have any strategies? How will you manage this busy TV schedule with your family life?
HRP: This show is a lot more grueling than I thought…a true test of endurance and commitment! I only did it for my charity HollyRod.
My strategy is to wait for a few tasks to be Project Manager until I can gauge everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. The biggest challenge is being away from my family. My husband is watching my four kids alone for weeks…that’s a whole other reality show.”
CBS: Tell us about your latest project with the Mexican Hass Avacados Importers Association.
HRP: “I have always loved avocados so it was a natural fit. They are delicious versatile and nutrient-dense. As a mom that’s key for me when I serve them to my kids. I love avocados so much I just cut them in half sprinkle on a little salt-free seasoning and scoop and eat.”
CBS: If you are working on any other projects or charities, please feel free to discuss.
HRP: “Along with running HollyRod, I sit proudly on the boards of Autism Speaks, Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles Zoo. I am currently developing a talk show project.”