Holly Robinson Peete knows first-hand the challenges of parenting an autistic child: A mom-of-four, her oldest son R.J. was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. Since then, the actress has been working on behalf of families like hers, advocating for awareness and greater resources through the HollyRod Foundation. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Holly opes up about her hopes and fears for her son, who is now 14.
On hopes, fears & Trayvon Martin: “Well the biggest thing for any parent of a kid with autism, is there comes a time when more than likely we’re going to go first. We’re not going to be here. And that part is difficult to deal with. Because you’re so fearful for what kind of community he’s going to be in. It’s really interesting with this whole Trayvon Martin situation. (For black families,) there’s certain ways you have to teach your kids to stay safe because there are certain suspicions and stereotypes. Well, with a son on the spectrum, it really scares me to death. Because I don’t know that he understands how to read social cues. So if an officer says to him to get his hands out of his pocket, what if he brings something out of his pocket and it looks like a gun? It’s just so frightening. What my hopes are for my son is that he is safe in a community where he is protected, where he has people who genuinely love him and look out for him and want the best for him when I can’t.”
On how R.J. is doing: “It’s challenging because the teen hormones can really cause erratic and a little bit of regressive behavior. You feel like you’ve moved past a lot of things like stimming (self-stimulatory behavior like flapping, rocking or spinning) or some of the things that he’s been doing as a child that you feel like you’ve grown out of, you’re seeing that again. Also, just dealing with girls and social circles and all these things that are already a nightmare for any typical teenager or typical teenager’s parents. But when you fold in autism, you have social issues that are really difficult to navigate. I try to have those conversations publicly as often as possible because, you know, we don’t talk about it enough.”
On treatments & therapies: “We’ve tried everything. I’m hesitant to say to people what works for me because it may not work for their child. My goal is to create an environment where families can try, let’s say, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which was helpful for my kid. But at $100 a half hour or $100 an hour, no one can afford that. Our goal with HollyRod is to set up centers where people can go and try hyperbaric oxygen therapy without sacrificing the rent or tuition.”