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Holly Robinson Peete shares what you need to know when you have an autistic child

Natalie Mayrath
Producer/Reporter

Of all her roles in an entertainment career spanning several decades, Holly Robinson-Peete, actor and star of “Meet The Peetes,” on the Hallmark Channel, nothing compares to motherhood, which proved challenging when Robinson and her husband Rodney’s youngest son RJ was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3.

“My husband went into denial, and we really struggled,” she says. The first thing the family learned was that early intervention is key. “The one thing we know about autism is that you have to get the services early,” Robinson says. Families are urged to seek therapies and special services as soon as possible after a diagnosis.

Arm yourself with information

Upon RJ’s diagnosis, Robinson says other parents gave her crucial advice, warning her that there would be a steep learning curve and that she should master it immediately for her son. “One mom told me ‘learn as much as you can, your kid is depending on you, so you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and fight, because you’ll be fighting for him the rest of your life.”

Advocate for financial benefits

That fight includes staying on top of the insurance companies who don’t always cover special needs services (many are dependent upon the state you live in). Robinson said there are many resources out there for parents, who should constantly be looking up services and offerings. She also advises parents to open a special needs trust and educate themselves on different bank accounts and tax laws that benefit special needs children.

On top of the emotional burden, Robinson stresses that families often cannot face the financial blow. “Therapies can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, so what happens if you can’t afford it?” She and her husband created the HollyRod Foundation and RJ’s Place to help families advocate and get the services they need when going through the experience of being “autism parents.” Robinson notes that families who are going out-of-pocket should consider hiring a professional, such as an advocate or a lawyer, to help their cause.

Sharing success stories

“Meet The Peete’s” chronicles the challenges and successes along RJ’s journey. “The biggest change since 2000, when RJ was diagnosed, [is that] corporations want to hire these young adults with autism. Microsoft, Outback Steakhouse, Walgreens, so many amazing corporations are going out of their way to find jobs for the autism community,” Robinson says.

Robinson reports that RJ, now 21, has surpassed his family’s and his doctors’ expectations with his job as a Los Angeles Dodgers field house attendant. “When he was three years old, we were told he would never work, never have gainful or meaningful employment. ... And one of the reasons why we share our RJ story on “Meet the Peetes” is because we want people to have that hope and see, but your average family out there is really struggling with this.”

Watch “Meet The Peetes” Mondays at 10 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel.

Follow Natalie Mayrath on Twitter.

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