Holly Robinson Peete, actress and co-founder of the nonprofit HollyRod Foundation, shares how she parents three young adults and a 16-year-old during the pandemic. Although she found that all her children have been struggling with their mental health during the past year, it’s been particularly challenging for her son with autism. “Someone with autism, they thrive on routine,” she says. Robinson Peete and the HollyRod Foundation have also partnered with the program Delivering Jobs, which is creating pathways to a million employment and leadership opportunities and fighting for those who cannot advocate for themselves.
HOLLY ROBINSON PEETE: This past year has been very, very interesting. Not only do I have four young adults, I've still got a baby who just turned 16. And I got this 55-year-old son, a.k.a. My husband, and these two dogs. It is a full house.
At the beginning, it was kind of fun. And then it became a little problematic when we all wanted our privacy. But at the end, we really learned some pretty amazing lessons about ourselves.
I did a lot of affirmations, a lot of meditating. So did my husband. And I tried to get my kids into meditation and mindfulness. I really tried to give them tools to walk through this, as I started to see their mental health really struggling, all of them, in different ways.
My son RJ, as many people know, has autism. And his mental health really suffered because he was out of a job. He worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers. And he didn't make the protocol to get in that COVID bubble.
When he got that job at the Dodgers six seasons ago, it changed his whole world. He became a self advocate. He had a group of friends. He never had friends in his life.
To lose that for a whole year was devastating to him. Someone with autism, they thrive on routine, and going to work, and having purpose, and doing things, like we all do. And I'm just so happy to report that there's some sense of normalcy coming back. He's getting in with the players again. Very excited that that is happening, because it was an extra tough year for him.
I'm so excited about Delivering Jobs. It's just an amazing program. I partnered with Special Olympics, Autism Speaks, and Best Buddies to procure jobs for young people on the spectrum, and also different special needs.
It's a good thing for your bottom line to hire someone who communicates differently, who thinks differently. This is an awesome platform. And I'm so proud of it. Got a little sidetracked by COVID, but we're up and running. And we're going to continue to advocate, and hopefully get a million jobs for these young people.
RJ was told he would never be anything when he was three years old. So he was non-verbal for many years. He probably didn't really start getting his speech and having meaningful conversation until he was about 10. So those early years were difficult because I couldn't communicate with him.
Now, he says what he feels, and it comes from such a pure place. Sometimes a little bit too much honesty. But I feel so blessed. I mean, so many kids with autism don't get language. But they are able to communicate in other ways.
He's 23 now. And now, when I look at all that he's accomplished, I just want to tell that story to give hope to someone who has a three-year-old who's getting diagnosed today. Don't ever let anybody tell you who your child is going to be and define what their future is, because the possibilities are endless.