Home > Awareness > Holly’s Gift to the Autism Community

Holly’s Gift to the Autism Community

This is a guest post by Peter Bell, the executive vice president for programs and services at Autism Speaks. He oversees the foundation’s government relations and family services activities and also serves as an advisor to the science division.

Peter Bell, Debra McElwain, Jason McElwain, Holly Robinson Peete, Zev Glassenberg, and Justin Kanew


For many of us in the autism community, April has become our holiday season. This year, one of the many gifts we received was extensive autism coverage on the popular CBS day time show “The Talk.” It’s probably no secret who played Santa Claus for us behind the scenes. It was none other than Holly Robinson Peete, co-host of “The Talk,” co-founder of the HollyRod Foundation and Autism Speaks Board Member. Holly and her husband former NFL star Rodney Peete  are also the proud parents of four beautiful children including RJ who is 13 years old and has autism. “Santa Holly” started planning the autism series months in advance which is obvious when you see all the segments they produced for the show’s Autism Awareness Month.

Holly and her co-hosts kicked off the month on April 1st with a beautiful video about the Peete family’s personal journey with autism. After an emotional chat with her fellow cast members, Holly invited me to talk about what families can do following a diagnosis. We discussed the basics of autism, what it is, what causes it, and what resources are available to families including Autism Speaks’ 100 Day Kit. At the show’s conclusion, audience members were given special blue t-shirts from “The Talk” and many were brought up on stage. After Holly and co-host Julie Chen urged President Obama to light up the White House blue, the ladies of “The Talk” did a countdown which culminated in transforming the set to blue in honor of Autism Speaks Light It Up Blue initiative.

The second installment of “The Talk’s” Autism Awareness Month took place on April 8th and featured an Autism Daddy Roundtable with “Criminal Minds” star Joe Mantegna and Holly’s husband Rodney Peete. The conversation about a dad’s perspective on autism continued with Jimmie Smith, a single father from Baton Rouge who raising two children on his own. He described coming to terms with his son’s autism diagnosis. Although mothers are most often the parent who takes primary responsibility for caring for a child with autism, Holly wanted to shine a light on the important role that fathers can and should take, a view not often portrayed.

On April 15th, Holly introduced us to two amazing teenagers who have overcome the challenges of autism to show the world their remarkable talents. Carly Fleischmann shared her remarkable story that captured the world’s attention when, after never speaking a word, she found her “voice” through the keypad of her computer. We then met 19 year-old Winfred Cooper and his father who shared Winifred’s incredible story accomplishing a 67 yard touchdown in high school football game. The show’s autism segment ended with pediatrician Ricki Robinson, MD offering real and practical solutions about transitioning through the teen years. Dr. Robinson is the author of Autism Solutions: How to Create a Healthy and Meaningful Life for Your Child and serves as a member of the Autism Speaks Scientific Review Panel.

The fourth and final autism segment took place on April 22nd.  “Amazing Race” teammates Zev Glassenberg and Justin Kanew joined Holly and Julie to chat about doing another season as well as the triumphs and challenges they faced with Zev having Asperger’s Syndrome. The next segment featured YouTube sensation Jason McElwain (J-Mac) who shared his inspirational story from 2006 when a high school basketball game changed his life forever. Accompanied by his mom Debra, Jason talked about his life today and his hopes for the future as an adult with autism. Finally, Holly and Leah invited me back to talk about the services adults will need and what society can do to help people with autism and their families lead more fulfilling lives. This afforded me the opportunity to highlight the recently introduced Autism Speaks Transition Tool Kit.

Perhaps the best segment of the month is one that most people haven’t seen. After the third show featuring the amazing teens with autism, Holly shared her gratitude with the studio audience while the cameras were still rolling. Throughout her “autism journey,” Holly has always taken a strong stand for autism. She genuinely believes in those who live with autism and wants to shine a bright light on their special talents and skills. She believes in listening to people with autism and helping their families care for them as best as possible. In addition to being remarkably talented, Holly is one of the most compassionate and generous celebrities in Hollywood. On behalf of the autism community, thank you “Santa Holly” for giving us the greatest gifts we could ever ask for – believing in our children and advocating for their futures.

Holly Robinson Peete and Peter Bell

  1. Katie Wright
    April 26, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    LOVED Holly and Peter on “The Talk.”
    Wonderful autism segments.
    Thank you.

    • Peter Bell
      April 26, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      Thanks, Katie!

      • Kimberly McGuiness
        April 27, 2011 at 5:19 pm

        Peter and Holly, Thanks so much for all you do. You are greatly appreciated! I would welcome the opporutnity to share our story, the journey across the moutntains, through the valleys and some times the dark forest and swamps as my daughter is deaf and autistic and will be graduating on May 26th! :)

  2. April 26, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, we at the University of Missouri Press have been trying to help spread the word not only about autism, but about a recently published book by Mark Osteen called One of Us. We thought that your readers might like to know that we are doing a giveaway for this book on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/University-of-Missouri-Press/177293766515). The book is a memoir detailing a family’s life with autism and was recently named as one of the 9 most poignant books on the topic by the Huffington Post.

  3. April 26, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Every day I know someone else affected by Autism – Keep on Keeping on and someday we’ll find the answers!

  4. April 26, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    I love the talk. just wish I could understand my son autism been diagnosed 3 years no one really teaching how to help him .His dad doesn’t help he doesn’t understand how his son is. going to do the walk for the first time this year.Right now our family is facing a divorce.grandparents are separated because grandpa cheated after 36 yrs of marriage. I’ve been divorced for 2 yrs. because he didn’t support us and left us homeless. and now we are worried where we are going to leave because landlord doesn’t want us because dad isn’t here anymore.please help me need help with food I also have learning disability too hard time with medical coding test trying to show my son even when things are hard keep going.

  5. April 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Every day I hear about or know someone effected by Autism or on the autism spectrum = Keep on keeping on the good work and someday we’ll find the answers!

  6. Walter Ritch
    April 27, 2011 at 12:28 am

    Iam writing on this site because I dont know where else to write to I have two autistic sons and cant find financial help my wife and I have been laid off for two years and jobs are scarce we have help with the boys in thier school but we would like to do for our boys the things to help with social skills like a camp but the only one is too far to drive on limited funds we bring in enough to stay afloat but its not fair to them. they are 9 & 10 and deserve more than staying at home with a 53 year old father all summer , they go to creekside elementary in Limestone county Al they have the most wonderful teachers and aides but they need more interaction with other kids we dont have any kids that live close i guess i just need anyone to listen though nobody here either isnt or arent interested , my wife trys to be a full time student and hold down a job when there is work ive been turned down more times than i can count but i still try we get by on unemployement for now. So if anybody has an idea of witch direction i need to go in please let me know i want to earn what we get in the help department of finance but would like to give the boys a good summer this year i have my 18 year old daughter who was raped and beaten by her stepfather in mississippi so i have custody after three years of this so i have a pretty full plate I can handle what i have just want better for the kids I appologize if this isnt where i should be doing this but im at the end of the list of places that can help.

    Thank You for the time

    • Kimberly McGuiness
      April 27, 2011 at 5:08 pm

      HI Walter, Thanks for your post.

      I will be giving a testimony tonight April 27th, regarding my daughter with autism. The call is at 9pm EST. the # is 712-432-0075 pin# 261558# this may help your family. I’m here to help however I can. May the journey bring peace and strength in all we do in Christ!

  7. Barbara Johnson
    April 27, 2011 at 9:19 am

    While it was nice having several episodes of The Talk devoted to autism — where was the representation of the more severely-challenged children? Sure, it is nice to feature kids that are successful with the help of assistive technologies, etc. But where are the feces-smearing, tantrumming, eloping, gut-affected children represented here? Vanilla autism at its best.

  8. Pat Taylor
    April 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    I have an autistic grandson who is on the Autism Spectrum. He is very fortunate to have a great family like he does. They live half-way across the country from me, but at one time I lived with them. He always has been a real treasure to me also. I taught him his shapes, numbers from 1 to 20 at the time and some of the alphabet. I still treasure those memories and my daughter always keeps me updated with loads of photos of all the family and long talks on the phone—he’s been known to make me cry when he sings to me over the phone. He now plays on a Spcial baseball team with other children with all kinds of disabilities, and where the parents are very much involved. He’s just the light of everyne’s life to those that love him. Thanks to Holly for doing those segments and sharing her story on Autism.

  9. April 29, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    thank you Holly and all that “you” do. My awareness of more outreach
    and projects…programs …and teachers…sports…and much more is
    is out there in our community even more than a year ago. I listen
    and watch for any new updates. My grandson is twelve and diagnosed at 3
    with autism….did not speak…screaming…yelling..would not sit still
    for a minute. Today though…he loves music.. sings…dances…very outgoing
    smiles all the time….talks non-stop…. He attends Burger School in Garden
    City..Mich. They have the best programs and studies for these wonderful
    children
    who are so full of life and fun. We need more teacher “awareness” in this
    direction of help and the effort to want to be there for them. It has
    to come from your heart. I love my grandson in every way…he makes me laugh
    and see the world from his perspective. I love being their for him.
    He rocks my world with God”s love in his heart..body and soul.

  10. Nellie J. Wilkes
    May 1, 2011 at 1:24 am

    Thanks Holly for making people aware of Autism. The programs on the View were great. I have an daughter who is autistic. She is 13 years old. She has good and bad days at school because some students bully her and she overreacts to their comments. She has some teachers that are her true friends. When she was called on stage at the end of her 6th grade years, I heard an adult say out loud “Oh that is that retarded girl” I wanted to scream that she has an A overall average and that she is autistic not retarded. Hopefully if more people with knowledge speak on this subject maybe we can educate people. I’m broke because I have given my child every opportunity possible and I believe she will succeed in life. Keep up the great work.
    Nellie

  11. Joy Barmack
    May 2, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Dear Holly Robinson Peete:
    Thank you for all you did for “our kids” and their famlieis on The Talk last month. I, too, am a mother of a child w/autism. You’re inspirational guests and stories gave me more hope than I’ve had in the past for my darling 17 year old son’s future. The isolation and hoplessness can sometimes be unbearable, and your willingness to share your personal journey means more than words can say.
    I love the show and thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    G-d bless you and you family.
    Joy Barmack
    p.s. – Notwithstanding autisim, I also thought you should have won the Apprentice–hands down!!!

  12. Kimberly McGuiness
    May 2, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Hello everyone. Thanks so much for posting and willing to share a little of your life with us.

    In January 2002 we packed up everything we owned, came up the road with only our last paychecks in our pocket, we had no job, we really didn’t know where we were going to stay but we knew we had a roof over our heads. Some friends and family thought we where crazy but we knew we had to do this for her the school was waiting.

    My daughter is 22 years old and she is Deaf and Autistic. She will be graduating on May 26th.

    No matter how short or long the journey… everyone has a story to share.

    I welome invite you to come and hear about Julia’s World..A Mother’s Perspective.. a Success Story.. May 4th and May 18th 9pm EST. The # is 712-432-0075 pin 261558# this may help your family. I’m here to help however I can…. as the journey continues… -Kimberly

  13. katrina green
    May 7, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your information with the world to let others like me know we are not along. Well i do understamd my son is Autistic and it has been a journey for my family also rises my family in housing was very hard with everything going on it has been so difficult as a single mother i one time was thinking i just dont want to be here no more but after prayers an reading about others out here i was thinking i was the only one but God is good and i keep my faith and i thank you so much again.

  14. Linda
    May 20, 2011 at 4:20 am

    My daughter is seven years old and she is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is very pretty but she tends to act out in public and throw temper tantrums at home. She hardly sits still in public or at home. The public do not seem to understand this Disorder as they glare at me when she bangs on things, becomes very loud or gets into things she is not supposed to. She has many sensory issues and thus; she acts out or throws temper tantrums. My son is two years old and has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum through The Sibling Research Study. He seems more calm and social than his sister. I am hoping that they misdiagnosed him. Anyway, I wish more people would know about the issues parents have to face with this disorder so I do not have to feel that nobody understands when I go out with my children in the public. I do not live in The United States like where I see most of you are from. I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I would like to know when there will be another show about Autism. I would like to watch and I go by Mountain Standard Time. I get the feeling, though, that The United States have a better system for Autistic children. Too bad I have a limited income or I would like to move to The States in order to receive a better education for my children.

  1. April 27, 2011 at 6:02 am
  2. May 5, 2011 at 10:17 am

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