Actress Holly Robinson-Peete Talks Autism + Family

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In the last 20 years, autism has become a major health concern, and Holly Robinson Peete has perhaps been the biggest spokesperson for the cause. The actress and husband Rodney Peete welcomed twins Ryan and RJ in 1997. At age 3, RJ was diagnosed with autism and since then, Peete has made it her mission to do what's best for RJ and other families who have children on the autism spectrum. She and her husband head the organization HollyRod, dedicated to providing care for people struggling with autism and Parkinson's Disease, which her father was diagnosed with in 1982.

We got the busy actress, activist and mom of four to talk to us about family and what everyone needs to know about raising a child with autism.

MommyNoire: How does the whole family participate in caring for RJ?

Holly Robinson Peete: The kids all have each other's backs. Team RJ is Ryan came up with the idea for a book (My Brother Charlie) with a mission to advocate for her twin brother as well as all siblings of special needs kids.

You pushed Rodney to tell his story with a book, Not My Boy! A Father, a Son, and One Family’s Journey with Autism. Do you think fathers struggle differently with autism or other developmental disabilities?

Men process things differently as a rule. I wish I'd been more sensitive to that at the time but I was so focused on RJ. But Dad's feelings can be ignored sometimes. Rodney calls them the forgotten parent.

You recently told Family Circle you and Rodney nearly parted, partly due to pressures caused by dealing with RJ's autism. Can you talk a bit about that?

It was a struggle to stay on the same page when it came to RJ's diagnosis. I wanted Rodney to be proactive he wanted empathy. Thank God we figured it out because he is an excellent, caring hands-on dad and I need him on this journey.

What do you feel are the best resources for parents of autistic children?

Other parents. Find like minded people with similar experiences. It was so helpful for us to have a network of people in the autism community.

What's the most important thing you want people to understand about autism?

That it's a disorder, not a disease. You'd be surprised to know how many people asked if it was contagious 10 years ago. My hope is for a world that not only accepts children with autism but embraces them and recognizes their potential valuable contributions to society.

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