Expanding Autism Awareness to Children

By Kimberly Rodrigues

Actress Holly Robinson-Peete and her daughter Ryan Elizabeth were recently recognized at the 42nd annual NAACP Image Awards for their work My Brother Charlie. The children’s picture book won the Outstanding Literary Work award in the Children’s category, and depicts the story of Charlie, a boy with autism, and how he interacts with the people around him. Five percent of the royalty earnings from the book will go to the HollyRod Foundation to help children with autism. More information can be found at hollyrod.org.
 
Why did the two decide to write My Brother Charlie?
Holly: No such book existed. Scholastic gave us an opportunity to spread the word globally via My Brother Charlie that children with autism are exceptional and often misunderstood. The earlier we teach [children] about acceptance and inclusion of a child with special a need...the better.
 
After watching the video online about the book, I heard Holly talk about a list that Ryan gave her as a guideline to talk to her class about her brother, RJ, who has autism. Why and how did Ryan come up with the list of bullet points?
Holly: Ryan’s “Autism 101” was brilliant! She wanted to advocate for her twin brother and knew exactly how to reach the kids. Good thing, too, because mom and dad were nervous! She knew that by highlighting that there are things we all do well and things we do not do so well, [we] would level the playing field. The kids [all] shared those things— and then we told them that RJ “can recite every player roster of every major league team in every major sport”...but he’s “not good at making friends.” We said he needed help with that. It was like a cloud lifted, [and it was] a great moment for our family.
 
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Holly: I had to remember the days when RJ didn’t communicate with me...It was a little painful.
 
What was the biggest thing you learned after writing My Brother Charlie?
Holly: That writing a children’s book was a lot harder than I thought, and took 2 years! The illustrations took time, [but] our illustrator Shane Evans is brilliant and was worth the wait. He brought our book to life!
 
I heard the book recently won an award! How does it make you feel to see your work recognized by others?
Ryan: We won the NAACP Image Award for Best Children’s Literary work [in March]! What a dream come true! To be a published author at 12 is a dream wrapped in a blessing!
 
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Ryan: If you see a kid with autism, take some time to say hello and try to connect. Even though it may seem like they aren’t hearing you, remember that are not deaf and they hear you perfectly. It’s just their brains process differently and they don’t always respond like typical kids. Be patient and know that they are appreciative of you.They need friends!