The HollyRod Foundation continues to make a difference in the fight to level the playing field for children diagnosed with autism.
“Autism is a very prevalent disorder and in the African American and Latino community our children are being diagnosed three to five years later than in other communities,” said Holly Robinson Peete, who was in Midtown for the unveiling of RJ’s Place, a room dedicated to autistic children at The Children’s Center.
Peete’s son RJ and Detroit Lions players Matthew Stafford and Glover Quin were also in attendance. They joined together to spend time, read and interact with the group of children.
“We are just honored and glad to be a part of something like this,” said Stafford.
Diagnosed at the age of three, RJ is the driving force of inspiration for the foundation’s autism outreach. Doctors revealed their belief that he would never speak after receiving the diagnosis. However, RJ spoke both to the media and the children, expressing his excitement for helping children that he remembers being so similar to.
“When we found out our son was diagnosed with autism it was a scary moment,” said Robinson Peete. “There is a lot of unknown territory that comes with a child with mental disabilities. We knew he needed love and support, if not more than any other child.”
Robinson Peete said that she is driven by the continued support from those who care to educate about autism, including the Detroit Lions for whom her husband, Rodney, played during his NFL career.
“It is very key that we remove the stigma of autism and other mental disorders to educate and address it head on,” said Peete.
RJ and his mother read and distributed, “My Brother Charlie” to all the children in attendance. The RJ inspired book was co-authored by Peete and her daughter, Ryan Peete.
Children were given tablets with preinstalled Microsoft software allowing for access to games and resources to help with development. Each child was also given a copy of the book, “My Brother Charlie.”
“We serve 26 children with autism here at The Children’s Center,” said Debora Matthews, President and CEO of The Children’s Center. “They are here one-on-one with teachers and helpers to assist in their development.”
RJ’s Room is another offering now available for the children with autism. With technology now accessible to the children and the volunteers, the center is looking to help assist more families.
“Technology is so key to help children with mental disabilities to communicate,” said Peete. “It is a very simple equation, technology plus autism equals communication and that is what these children need.”
Since it’s founding in 1997, the HollyRod Foundation has focused primarily on children with autism and those battling with Parkinson’s disease. Actress Robinson Peete and her husband, Rodney, founded the foundation in honor of Holly’s father, who passed with Parkinson’s disease.
“We started our focus on Parkinson’s disease and grew from there after we had our son, RJ,” she said.
With support from the Microsoft Foundation and Stella and Dot, RJ’s Place in Midtown is just one of the many expected locations that the HollyRod Foundation is looking to have in the area.
“We are excited for what else is in store for RJ and the foundation, we are looking to have places all over for children dealing with autism. Hopefully, this is just the start,” said Peete.