Holly Robinson Peete Talks Parenting Children with Autism
Advocacy The actress admits that, while raising a son with autism may be the biggest challenge she’s ever faced, she wouldn’t change her son for the world. Instead, she’s changing the world for her son.
Mediaplanet: What was the hardest adjustment for you and your family after learning of your son's diagnosis?
Holly Robinson Peete: The lack of answers and the absence of hope from the pediatrician were the hardest parts of the diagnosis. Adjusting to something you know so little about was beyond challenging.
MP: What should the public know about parenting a child with autism?
HP: Children with autism need community, compassion, friendship and support. This disorder comes in many forms. It’s not a one size fit all scenario. Ask a parent of a child with autism about their child’s specific personality traits. Never assume you know who a child with autism is based on your interaction with another affected child.
MP: Why was it important for you to become an advocate for both autism and the disease your father battled, Parkinson's?
HP: I am a firm believer that if you have a platform to help others—that is a blessing. Like Marion Wright Edelman said: “Service is the rent we pay for living.” That said, it’s not in everybody’s wheelhouse to be an outspoken advocate.
"The key for us is to treat autism with urgency but also honesty and humor."
When we first dealt with Parkinson’s with my dad in the mid ‘80s, in a pre-Google world, we had little to no information on this devastating degenerative disease. It was a dark time. Enter Muhammad Ali, who literally and figuratively carried the torch for PD patients all over the world and it made all the difference for my father to see the Champ shine the way for him.
When RJ was diagnosed at 3, after we went through shock, denial, grief, acceptance—all of the stages… we realized that we could carry that torch and light the way for other families with less resources than we had.
MP: What has been your most helpful resource in parenting a child with autism?
HP: Other families on the same journey, sharing compassion and love wisdom and non-judgmental advice. Some of the best people I have met have been autism parents, service providers and caregivers and therapists. They are the most patient and loving folks ever. There are few things more comforting than just knowing someone understands what you are going through.
MP: What advice would you give to parents who are struggling to strike a balance in raising a child with autism while raising other children who are not autistic?
HP: Oh, that’s tricky. Balance is difficult for any parent but in my case so much of my energy went into my son’s treatment and services that his twin sister complained about feeling neglected. And she was right.
The only suggestion I can offer is to carve some alone time with the other children. One-on-one moments are so crucial. That said there are only so many hours in a day. It can be so challenging on a family to immerse a child in intervention and make sure the others feel prioritized. The key for us is to treat autism with urgency but also honesty and humor.