(BlackDoctor.org) — Their success in the sports and entertainment worlds couldn’t prepare them for the awful truth they heard in the doctor’s office nearly a decade ago. But celebrity Apprentice star Holly Robinson Peete and her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, somehow found the strength to face their son’s autism diagnosis.
“Afterwe both kind of cried and said, `Why us?’ But Holly very soon after that rolled up her sleeves and said, `Let’s get to work,”‘ Rodney recalls. “I was the opposite. I was angry more than anything else … I didn’t like to hear what the doctor was saying.”
In his recent autobiography, “Not My Boy!”, Rodney tells the intimate story of his family’s struggle with the diagnosis of R.J., (Rodney James), now 12.
At the time, R.J. was 3, a fraternal twin to his sister Ryan, who showed no symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. As a toddler, R.J. was starting to form words, but around 2, he stopped talking and responding to his name or making eye contact. He began flapping his hands and flicking his ears in repetitive motion.
The Peetes took the twins to the best pediatrician they could find after R.J.’s preschool teacher told the couple he was not teachable. He needed physical, occupational and speech therapy, the doctors confirmed.
“My anger and denial left me in a lonely world,” Rodney writes. “I still thought when the (football) season was over and I could spend every day with him, we would fix this in our own way. I’d be his dad and I’d snap him out of this.”
So doing what he knew best, Rodney headed to the nearest sporting goods store to load up on soccer balls, footballs, baseballs, bats and mitts. But when he took R.J. to the park, the boy was only interested in throwing rocks into a nearby creek, over and over. Some days, he would kick the soccer ball. Then it could be days before that would happen again.
Rodney finally realized that learning to venture into his son’s world was a better option than trying to make R.J. a part of his. Once he was committed to “Team R.J.,” he says, he began taking the child to and from appointments – from three hours a day at a special school, to all the therapies the doctors had recommended.
Through it all, Rodney says, he began to learn how to work with his son and got down on the floor to play. This interaction technique, called Floortime therapy, is a way for parents and therapists to deeply engage autistic children in activities and problem solving.
“When I moved past my denial of R.J.’s condition, I was surprised by how I felt,” he explains in the book. “I felt liberated. Sure, at first I’d mourned the vision I’d had of the kind of father I would be to R.J. And I understood that I had to let go of all the images of fatherhood that I’d received from movies and television – from Ward Cleaver to Cliff Huxtable. I wanted to have as loving a relationship with R.J. as I’d enjoyed with my own dad, but I had to come to terms with the fact that it couldn’t be exactly the same.”
Since the diagnosis, the Beverly Hills family has grown with sons Robinson, 7, and Roman, 5. Each member has his or her own role in R.J.’s progress.