Actress Holly Robinson Peete has been an advocate for her kids almost two decades now. The mother of four emerged as a voice for autism in the black community at a time where there was still such a stigma. Peete has remained at the forefront of the fight for education on the developmental disorder since her son Rodney Jr. was diagnosed at the age of three. Peete was so focused on Rodney’s needs that she admits she had not realized that his twin sister Ryan had ADHD. Ryan was in her teens when they eventually caught on.
In a recent discussion with Yahoo! Life’s So Mini Ways, Holly Robinson Peete opened up about the struggles of raising a kid with autism and another with ADHD. According to the actress, her daughter was already forming complete sentences and talking when her son, RJ, started showing symptoms. He stopped talking, wouldn’t answer to his name, would not make eye contact and instead would flap his arms and flick his ears. While RJ tested positive for autism, his twin sister Ryan showed no signs and was not anywhere on the spectrum.
As the family began to rally around RJ and his needs, they did not notice that Ryan was having her own struggles. Ryan’s ADHD was not diagnosed till she was 14. But, because of how hard Holly Robinson Peete had advocated for RJ and the amount of work she had put into autism awareness, Holly felt like she had failed her daughter by not picking up on the signs earlier. “Some people don’t get diagnosed ’til they’re adults, but for me — being an advocacy person and advocating so much for her twin brother — I just feel like I kind of failed her a little bit because I did miss those signs. “
According to the World Health Organization, nearly 1 in every 270 people worldwide are living with an autism spectrum disorder. This includes 1 in 54 children in the United States. In addition, boys are 4x more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls according to the CDC. CDC also reports that millions of children are diagnosed with ADHD. 388,000 kids between the ages of 2 and 5 alone. In the case of twins, studies show if one child has autism, the other will be affected about 36 to 95 percent of the time. In non-identical twins, if one child has autism, then the other is affected about 31 percent of the time.
Holly Robinson Peete was not exaggerating when she says she super advocated for her son following his diagnosis. In 1993 she founded the Hollyrod Foundation with her husband Rodney Peete. According to their site, the organization is dedicated to assisting families who have loved ones living with autism or Parkinson’s.
Despite all the focus being on her brother, Ryan has never shown signs of resentment. Quite the opposite actually, as the family says she is the most protective over him. She joined her parents in their outreach work and even collaborated with her mother on a children’s book called “My Brother Charlie” based on her childhood experiences with RJ.
The family also starred in their own reality show on OWN titled “For Peete’s Sake,” where people got a look at their family dynamic and RJ first hand. In one clip, RJ reflects on his journey, asking his mother, “do I have autism still?” When Holly passes the question back to him, RJ explains that when he’s emotional or trying to connect with others, he feels like he is still autistic. However, he does not feel like he has it when he is cool and with his friends. In another episode, RJ admitted he lies about not having autism because of online trolls.