Holly Robinson Peete: Autism Advocate, Actress, and Mom

RJ and Holly Rod Peete

The doctors informed Holly and Rodney that R.J would never say, “I love you” or participate in sports.

By Ron Sandison

On March 2nd I met Holly Robinson Peete at the 78th Annual Michigan Council of Exceptional Children Conference (MCEC) in Grand Rapids. I presented a breakout secession on Practical Insight for Parenting & Teaching Children with Autism. Holly was the keynote speaker – her message Autism Express Raising a Son with Autism.

I was impressed with Holly’s advocacy for her son R.J who was diagnosed with autism at age three. R.J and his twin sister Ryan are now twenty. R.J is famous for saying, “I may have autism, but autism doesn’t have me.”

When R.J was diagnosed with autism in the early 2000’s there were few resources and information about autism. The doctors informed Holly and Rodney that R.J would never say, “I love you” or participate in sports. R.J. was six-years-old before he began to make friends and hated physical contact. Kids bullied him ruthlessly due to his innocents. In middle school, children tricked R.J to make inappropriate comments about women’s body parts. Two bullies deceived R.J into taking fifty dollars allowance money to buy a two dollar pizza. This plan was foiled by his watchful sister Ryan.

Holly and her family felt hopeless until they meet other families who had children on the spectrum. This inspired Holly and her daughter Ryan to co-write My Brother Charlie a children’s picture book. Holly with her husband Rodney Peete a former NFL quarterback, also founded the Holly Rod Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping families living with autism or Parkinson’s disease. They also have a reality TV Show, For Peete’s Sake featured on the Hallmark network. In the clip below, Holly talks to R.J. about whether he still has autism and about friends.

The Peetes use their Hollywood connections to advocate for autism. Holly’s dad was Gordon on Sesame Street and also a screen writer for the Cosby Show. At age five, Holly was on Sesame Street and instantly knew she wanted to be an actress. Her big break came with the ABC sitcom 21 Jump Street playing the character Vanessa Russell.

After R.J was bullied by classmates, Holly spoke to his 4th grade class about autism. She explained to his peers, how autism makes children act differently. Children with autism may have problems with sensory issues, and difficulty making friends. She also shared the great gifts R.J has like memorizing the stats of every NFL player; how R.J. can’t tell a lie; and his ability to recall thousands of facts about animals.

Holly shares practical advice for parents:

  • Fight for your son or daughter so that they also will learn to be an advocate for themselves
  • Arm yourself with information and resources on autism so you can be an advocate for your child’s IEP.
  • Be interested in the things that interest your child. “When R.J was interested in animals we became interested in animals as well.”
  • R.J is currently working as the clubhouse manager of the L.A Dodgers. He still loves animals especially his twelve year old blind service dog.

    Holly shares, “Almost every parent of a child with autism that I’ve met on our family’s Autism Express journey shares the same fears and hopes. We pray our teenagers will transition into adulthood with self-reliance, have a safe place to live, and a job with a compassionate employer. More than anything, we want to be assured that our kids will develop the ability to self-advocate, and that they’ll find a trusted community.”

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    Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is a Board Member with The Art of Autism and an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

    He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron on his website spectruminclusion.com or email Ron at Sandison456@hotmail.com.

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