By Michael Blackson on September 23, 2009
Inside, however, was a different situation. There were teary eyes and heart-rending stories in the dimly lit auditorium as the keynote speaker gave her perspective and lessons as a parent of a brilliant, but socially awkward son with autism.
On September 15, 2009, the first event of the Frederick Douglass Black Culture Celebration presented Holly Robinson Peete, an actress, singer, wife, mother, philanthropist, child advocate, and author.
In a packed Lyte Auditorium at 7:30p.m., Peete emphasized the impact of autism by being a parent to her autistic son, sharing his story to advocate awareness, early diagnosis, and eliminate the stigma labeled on children with autism.
Her message is autism does not make a child any less capable of accomplishing the dreams and aspirations a child without autism has. With support and love 100 percent behind them, the child can accomplish anything!
Autism, in its denotative meaning, is a pervasive developmental disorder of children, characterized by impaired communication, excessive rigidity, and emotional detachment.
They view the world differently which affects their social capabilities yet makes them brilliant beyond normal human capacity. However, most children diagnosed with autism are not fortunate enough to be high-functioning.
The high or low functioning of autism varies upon the type of autism spectrum a child is said to possess.
There are five types on the autism spectrum a child can be diagnosed with around the ages of two and three.
The first is autism, the most common condition and results in impaired thinking, feeling, and social functioning.
The second is Asperger’s syndrome, similar to the Common Reading Book of 2009, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’s protagonist, Christopher Boone.
Asperger’s syndrome is the child’s obsessive interest in a single topic.
Unlike other children with high- functioning autism, those with Asperger’s syndrome have expansive intelligence in regards to speaking confidently on complicated matters, such as calculus.
The third is childhood disintegrative disorder, a rare type of autism spectrum that results in the loss of vocabulary.
The fourth is Rett syndrome, a relatively rare syndrome, exclusively affecting females.
The last is pervasive developmental disorder, a culmination of Asperger’s syndrome, autism, and childhood disintegrative disorder.
These five types of autism spectrum have no official cause, but there are theories.
If a child has abnormalities in the brain’s function or structure, it may lead to autism.
The parts of the brain commonly disrupted are the cerebellum, coordinating motor skills, such as speech and interaction.
The amygdala coordinates aggression and emotion and the cerebral cortex coordinates higher mental functions, such as retaining information.
Genetic vulnerability may also cause autism through certain medical conditions, such as Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and congenital rubella.
Environmental factors can also play a role in causing autism, such as toxins and heavy metals.
If a parent or guardian notices these early symptoms of autism, doctors can diagnose their child earlier than in their later age.
Some prominent symptoms are: difficulty making friends, not enjoying being touched, and repetitively stacking or lining up objects.
Although there is no official cure, there are treatments that can improve symptoms.
Children diagnosed with autism can see professionals who hold sessions such as speech therapy, verbal behavior intervention, and relationship development intervention.
Luckily, most centers that offer support are free of charge to the family.
“He saw the world differently. This lady said, ‘Your son will never throw a football,” said Peete in front of her intrigued audience.
She refused to believe the doctor’s words, knowing the potential her autistic son, Rodney Jr., possessed. “He is brilliant, but has trouble making friends,” she said.
Rodney Jr. was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, after displaying the early symptoms. From there, he underwent behavioral therapy to improve his symptoms.
Her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, took the defensive on the situation.
“I was offensive, he was defensive,” she said. “I needed him to be on my team.” Eventually, the offense broke through and Peete took to the stage.
Following a lecture advocating the message, a few children approached Peete and her son and said,
“Thank you for telling your story.” RJ turned to his mother and said, “Did I help them?”
“Yes you did,” she responded.
“Does that make me a leader?”
His twin sister, Ryan Peete, noticed her brother was having trouble at school with the other fourth graders.
Unlike an audience consisting of young adults and adults, these were fourth graders who held the body language of, according to Peete’s explanation, “What you gonna’ say that I haven’t heard before?”
This is where his twin sister stepped in, consulting her mom in Autism 101 with fourth graders.
“Ask them what they like and what they don’t like,” Ryan said, as a way to connect to the students.
After Peete utilized her daughter’s advice and talked to the fourth grade students, RJ soon started to receive invitations to sleepovers, parties, and other fun social events with his classmates.
This soon gave him that extra confidence, letting him know he was not different from the rest of his peers.
Peete, her husband Rodney, and her two out of four children,
Ryan and Rodney Jr. soon started spreading the word of autism to others who did not have the confidence to speak out.
To end the lecture, Peete showed a video made by her daughter and son.
It featured heart-warming pictures of the family enjoying themselves, as any other family would, with RJ’s voice as the narrative about his story.
“The doctor said, ‘You will never make friends.’ NOT!” Both RJ and Ryan shouted, giggling.
“The doctor said, ‘You will never play football.’ NOT! The doctor said, ‘You will never say I love you.’ But I say it to my parents and sister.”
In the effort to continue spreading the word, Peete and her daughter’s collaborated on a book called, “My Brother Charlie,” told through Ryan’s point of view.
It is a medium to feeling what RJ feels on a daily basis.
As he stated during the closing video, “Can you imagine feeling something, but you can’t say it? I do.”