About the Author: Erica Thibault is a Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, The Bahamas.
They call it the “Never Day.” It's the day when parents receive their child's autism diagnosis. It is also the day when many doctors give parents a list of their child's limitations. The parents are told that their child will never be “normal;” will never make friends; will never play sports; and will never say “I love you.”
Actress and autism activist Holly Robinson-Peete, and her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, never imagined they would experience a “Never Day” until their first son, RJ, was diagnosed with autism twelve years ago. The Peetes were told to keep their expectations low, but they refused to sit back and accept the limitations imposed by doctors. Instead, the Peetes armed themselves with information on innovative therapies and committed to using their celebrity status to raise awareness and encourage other parents to hold onto hope.
On August 15 and 16, the Peete family brought their message of hope to The Bahamas, where they participated in two outreach events organized by U.S. Embassy Nassau. On Sunday, August 15, Holly Robinson-Peete was the special in-studio guest on the local radio program, Sunday Conversations, where, for more than an hour and a half, she shared stories about how RJ's diagnosis affected the entire family. Joining the live radio conversation by phone, Rodney Peete provided a father's unique perspective. Mr. Peete said he went into "denial" after RJ's diagnosis because of his own expectations as a man, as a father, and as a professional athlete. Mr. Peete documented his struggle to accept his son's diagnosis in his book Not My Boy!.
On August 16, U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas Nicole Avant invited the Peete family to her home for a reception with more than 80 guests, including Bahamian families affected by autism, parents, local specialists, and high- ranking Bahamian government officials, including the Minister of Education, The Honorable Desmond Bannister.
“It is important to raise awareness about autism in The Bahamas and throughout the Caribbean,” Ambassador Avant said. “Bahamian families must be reassured that they are not alone, but that they are among thousands of families in the United States and throughout the world dealing with a loved one who has autism.”
To create an atmosphere for interaction, discussion, and the exchange of ideas with the Peete family, U.S. Embassy Nassau partnered with REACH, The Bahamas' only support group for families with autistic children.
Although Ambassador Avant's reception was the Peete family's first autism outreach event outside of the United States, their message to Bahamian parents remained the same: "Get out of denial quickly, arm yourself with information, keep an open mind and stay proactive, hopeful, and prayerful. Above all, focus on your child's gifts, not on their limitations." Mrs. Robinson-Peete also pledged to share information and offered continued support to the autism community in The Bahamas.
REACH public relations officer Kim Gibson said that the event provided parents with a vital opportunity to share information and strengthen their network. “We are just really happy the Peetes came to bring their story to The Bahamas. It gives us hope. A lot of us feel there is no hope here because of the limited resources, but it lets us see that we are not alone, that if we work hard wonderful things will happen.”
For additional information about autism and related resources, please visit the HollyRod Foundation's website.