Holly Robinson Peete shares her son with autism's accomplishments to give hope to others: 'The possibilities are endless'

Stacy Jackman and Priscilla Blossom
·6 min read

Holly Robinson Peete has a bevy of tricks up her sleeve when it comes to maintaining her and her family’s mental health. The 56-year-old maintains a regular meditation and affirmations practice that she says has helped her get through the pandemic alongside her husband and four children, ages 16 through 23, and two dogs.

“The number one thing I wanted to help my kids with was to give them tools to process their mental health,” the actress tells Yahoo Life. She even texted her kids every morning to remind them to open their meditation apps and set intentions for their day.

“It doesn't mean the rest of the day isn't going to go crazy. It doesn't mean that you're not going to have a terrible day. It just means that you will have this moment for yourself to affirm what you want today,” she says. “Don't worry about two weeks from now, just today.”

Spending the past year in a full house has brought a lot of life lessons to Robinson Peete.

“We are on top of each other. At the beginning It was kind of fun,” she says. But like most families living in the era of COVID, the novelty soon wore off. “It became a little problematic when we all kind of wanted our privacy.”

Despite that, the Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper star admits she’s learned a number of lessons being in such close quarters with her family.

This last year has taught me the importance of family. It taught me to be a better listener.

“This last year has taught me the importance of family. It taught me to be a better listener,” she explains.

Like most parents living in today’s highly connected world, Robinson Peete says she, too, has been guilty of staring into her phone or computer screen longer than necessary. But the pandemic made her realize she needed to be in the moment more.

“I had to stop and look at ... my children in the eyes and talk to them as adults,” she says. “It (also) made me be still in moments where I normally would not be still. I'd be doing too many things at once. And I guess I just learned patience. I learned gratitude.”

While many families have spent the pandemic caring for younger children, Robinson Peete says spending so much time with her fully grown children at home also shifted some of the dynamic in her household.

“There were moments where I saw such adult thoughts from my children,” says the 21 Jump Street actress. She shares one anecdote when her 23-year-old daughter Ryan admitted she wasn’t sure if she was ‘adulting’ right—a common feeling among many young people.

“‘Adulting’ is just making decisions and understanding the consequences,” Robinson Peete told her daughter while reminding her to stay calm. “It's as simple as that. If there's something you don't know how to do, Google it, figure it out.”

She also shared her admiration for her son, 18-year-old Robinson, who taught himself Japanese during the pandemic by finding himself a teacher in Osaka to give him lessons via Zoom.

“I learned that my kids are going to be, I think, very good adults. And I'm very excited for them to go to the next level of their lives,” the proud mom gushes.

Holly Robinson Peete. (Photo: Getty Images)
Holly Robinson Peete. (Photo: Getty Images)

One major hurdle she faced as a mom over the past year, however, was helping to support R.J. after he temporarily lost his job with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a clubhouse attendant. Robinson Peete witnessed how R.J., who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3, struggled mentally in those months without his old routine.

“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,” she says. “To lose all of it ... for a whole year was devastating to him.”

After helping him through those months, however, Robinson Peete says that R.J. is finally back to work with the team and enjoying some sense of normalcy again.

“Twenty years ago he was told he would never do anything,” Robinson Peete shares. “And now when I look at all that he's accomplished, you know, I just want to tell that story to give hope to someone who has a three-year-old, who's getting diagnosed today.”

Robinson Peete has been a strong advocate for the autism community for many years now, both as a mother to a child with autism as well as via the HollyRod Foundation — an organization that helps provide care and resources for individuals living with Parkinson’s Disease and autism. During the pandemic, she made sure to connect with other autism families through the foundation to make sure they were doing OK.

“So many parents had to become therapists for their kids every day, as well as teachers,” she says. As someone who has raised a young child with autism, she wanted to share this reminder to the parents just starting their journey: “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.”

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.

Robinson Peete’s advocacy doesn’t end there, though. She’s currently committed to working with Delivering Jobs, a campaign dedicated to helping individuals with autism, intellectual and/or developmental differences obtain employment and leadership opportunities. The campaign is part of a partnership with Special Olympics, Autism Speaks and Best Buddies.

“I think it's really a mindset in the corporate world to understand that not only can (these individuals) diversify your workforce and your teams, but they can also really bring to you a diverse way of thinking,” says the former The Talk host. “It's a good thing for your bottom line to hire someone who communicates differently, who thinks differently.”

Delivering Jobs aims to procure employment for one million individuals by 2025.

Robinson Peete also shared some insight into her 25-year-strong marriage to former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete.

“We have really grown as a couple during this time. I know people think that maybe we're a perfect couple…(but) we have struggles just like every other couple,” the Howard the Duck star confesses. “I think the difference is we really have worked hard on the tools to be able to communicate with each other.”

So what are some of those tools?

“One is...allowing the person to have a certain amount of time with a timer to let them say what they want to say. You don't interrupt. You just listen,” she says, admitting she does use a literal timer and takes notes so as not to interrupt.

She’s also a big believer in the 20-second hug. “Sometimes I can't stand when he asks for that hug because I want to still argue, but it really does work to diffuse whatever conflict is happening in that moment.”

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