It is estimated that one out of every 110 kids in America will be diagnosed with autism. No one is certain what causes the disorder, and the subj ect is hotly debated across the country. Currently, there is no cure for it, but families struggling with the disease can help each other through it.
Autism Advocacy Areva Martin, award-winning attorney, author of The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand Up for Your Child with Autism and mother of an autistic son, stresses the importance of being an advocate for children with special needs.
Areva's son, Marty, was diagnosed with autism when he was 2. "It was very devastating for me and my husband," she says. "What really bothered us the most was that we didn't know what to do. We didn't know where to get information. We didn't know how to navigate the systems. It became very clear to me that I needed a roadmap, so what I did with The Everyday Advocate was take all the information I learned as a parent, working with parents through my nonprofit Special Needs Network and parents whom I work with through my law firm, and I gave parents a roadmap, so you don't have to worry, you don't have to guess. You know what to expect and how to navigate and get the best services for your child.
"You don't have to be a lawyer to be an advocate," Areva adds. "Anyone can be an advocate."
Children with autism or other special needs are sometimes segregated from other students at school, but Areva vehemently opposes this practice. "It is not OK to segregate kids with special needs. It's not OK to separate them from their typical peers," she says. "You can use some other measures. These are children. These aren't animals, and they have basic human rights, and you need to know your legal rights.
"My son, Marty, ever since he was in kindergarten, he's been in a typical class, mainstream with his typical peers," she adds. "He has an assistant with him, but those kids provide modeling opportunities for him. I say that all children with special needs can benefit from being around other kids."
Raising an Autistic ChildWhen doctors told former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete and his wife, actress Holly Robinson Peete, that their son RJ had autism, their lives changed forever. "Not only did we get the news, we got, 'He will never look you in the eye. He will never come up and say, "I love you." He will never mainstream in school. He will never play organized sports. He may never live on his own, so these are the things that you need to get ready for,'" Rodney says. "And our son was 3."
Rodney and Holly didn't know what autism was and became frustrated with the lack of information about raising an autistic child. "We didn't have any experience with autism, so to give us information like that, we needed more, we needed a fix," Holly says. "Let us know what to do now. OK, this is what he has, how do we fix it? And there wasn't that information."
Holly and Rodney, along with their family, worked hard to overcome the challenges that RJ and their family faced. RJ was receptive to the treatments and therapies he received and has beaten the odds. He now plays piano and team sports, and goes to a mainstream school. "We want to give a message of hope, and acceptance and love for how beautiful and special these children are," Holly says. "These are beautiful children, and they are valuable to society."
"We don't want to see these kids be put in a box and [say], 'This is who they are. This is what they're going to be for the rest of their lives," Rodney adds. "To put these kids in a box at such an early age is something that can't happen."
The Peetes founded the HollyRod Foundation in 1997, in honor of Holly's father, Matthew T. Robinson, Jr., who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, to help improve the quality of life of those battling the illness. After RJ's diagnosis, the foundation expanded to help families affected by autism afford treatment and care.