The actress says that her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete 'was on Denial Street' after son RJ's diagnosis at age 3
RJ, now 25, was diagnosed with autism at age 3 — and has a neurotypical twin sister, Ryan, and two younger brothers, Robinson Peete, 21, and Roman, 18.
On a recent episode of Kelly Ripa's podcast, Let’s Talk Off Camera, Peete, 59, told the talk show host that "Rodney was on Denial Street" when RJ was originally diagnosed. At the time, she says they were given "a laundry list of things he would never do.”
“He will never mainstream in school. He’ll never say, ‘I love you.’ He’ll never have meaningful employment. He’ll never drive,” she said.
Peete says that the diagnosis was tough for her football-star husband to process. “RJ’s supposed to be the Heisman Trophy winner," she told Ripa, "and instead [Rodney] got the kid who comes to the locker room and runs around and twirls and flaps and stims.”
According to Verywell Health, “stimming” is a term for “self-stimulatory behaviors that involve repetitive movements or sounds,” such as flapping the hands or rocking back and forth.
And while RJ was in the locker room, Peete explained that “all the other kids are getting autographs and running around the field and catching balls.”
“[Rodney] could not process this,” says Peete, who cohosts the Peacock dating show Queens Court with her husband. She said she would highlight key passages in books about autism for Rodney, but ultimately, “we were not on the same page. We weren’t even in the same state or country.”
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“I was all alone," continued Peete, "and I finally said to him, ‘I cannot eggshell my life around you because you’re sad about the kid you got.’”
“This was a big issue. I was ready to leave him. Did I want to do this on my own? No, but he was no help, and then he was in denial, and even people in his family couldn’t even say the word autism.”
“My gangsta mom jacket is on, and I cannot [deal] with you. So I told him, ‘I’m out of here.’”
What finally changed things for Rodney, said Peete, was a “floor time” session where RJ was able to make a connection with his therapist—and not his father. “It was through sheer embarrassment that [Rodney] turned it around," said the former Masked Singer contestant.
“He was like, 'There’s no way in the world some stranger’s going to connect with my kid but I won’t.' And that really was what turned him around and he’s been on board ever since.”
And RJ has continued to make progress. Even though his parents were told he would never work, he has been employed by Los Angeles Dodgers for more than eight years. "The fact that they employed my son, they hired inclusively, a young man with autism that they gave a chance… It's been a godsend," Peete told PEOPLE.
She also told Ripa that the team genuinely appreciates everything RJ does for them, and how they tell her: "You don't understand what he brings to our clubhouse. He's the best hugger. He knows everything about each one of us because he's got that brain. He knows when we are drafting, he knows our birthdays, he knows our wives' birthdays. You know how superstitious baseball is? He knows what I need on my jersey."
"He's just an amazing employee over there," added Peete with pride.
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