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Living with Autism

Holly Robinson Peete helps unveil the mystery of autism

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Actress Holly Robinson Peete was once best known for her roles in 21 Jump Street or Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. But for the past decade, she’s had an additional fan base and they don’t care about her acting chops.

They are people—parents—like her who have lived through the ups and downs of raising a child with autism. Since Holly’s oldest son, RJ, was diagnosed with autism about 12 years ago, she has become a tireless advocate for the autism community, speaking out for parents and siblings of children with autism as well as for the children themselves.

She and her husband, former Detroit Lion Rodney Peete, run the HollyRod Foundation, which works with families affected by Parkinson’s Disease and autism. They are raising funds for a center to be built in Los Angeles later this year, which will provide low-cost services to the entire family of a child affected by autism.

This month, Holly Robinson Peete will be the keynote speaker at Metro Parent’s fifth annual Living with Autism workshop on April 25. Before her appearance, Peete discussed surviving her son’s teen years, her hope for his future and her mission to help other families affected by autism.

Your son is 14 now. How are the turbulent teen years affected by his autism?

For us, the hardest things are the social circles – you know, those packs of boys that run wild on a middle school campus. We’d been so fortunate to have a great elementary school that had groups of kids who just embraced him and lifted him up, and now that they are in sixth grade and going on to the next level, things are starting to go a little downhill. That’s hard for any teen, but when you are on the spectrum and you have social deficits it’s especially challenging.

Yes, that’s not a fun time for, really, anybody. It’s hard for parents, too, to see their children struggle with that.

It’s especially hard because you have to resist every temptation to run up on that school and snatch these kids up by their neck! When you find people who are insensitive to children with autism and they use all kinds of social media terrorism to wreak havoc on them socially, it’s a whole different level that we didn’t deal with when we were coming up. My son really likes Facebook because he has an easier time socializing without having to make eye contact. In some ways it’s really good for him, but in some ways it’s really challenging. That’s the main issue we’re dealing with now, and then when you tack on typical hormonal stuff – good times!

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