Holly Robinson Peete on World Autism Awareness Day

As the mother of an autistic child, Holly Robinson Peete shares her own personal story, her stance on vaccinations and her important initiative, hollyrod4kids.

Holly Robinson Peete is the mother of an autistic child, who uses her celebrity and that of her husband, retired NFL star Rodney Peete, to fight for those whose voices may not be heard. Through hollyrod4kids -- an initiative of the couples' HollyRod Foundation founded in 1996 -- Holly has dedicated her life to helping find medical, financial and emotional support for children, most especially those with autism.

In this interview with justsmommies.com in support of World Autism Awareness Day, taking place on April 2, Holly discusses her own personal story; her stance on vaccinations; her hollyrod4kids initiative; and the necessity of occasions such as Autism Awareness Day to help create widespread consciousness of the medical issues that affect such a high percentage of children.

Why is it important to have a day dedicated to autism?

Holly Robinson Peete: It is an opportunity for everyone in the world to focus on this disorder, which has been neglected for too long as far as I am concerned. We are ignoring a lot of issues when it comes to autism and we are slow out of the gate, so this is a day to talk about all kinds of things in regards to this disorder that is going to affect somebody you know at some point. I am absolutely thrilled that this day exists.

What information is important for you to pass along to other mothers?

Holly Robinson Peete: First, awareness is important. You need to be aware of what autism is and you need to teach your children what it is, because what is happening in schools is children are ignorant as to what it is and it becomes a stigma. Our son is mainstreaming. Part of the reason he is doing so well is that we have come down as a family and talked to the children at school about what autism is. I think education is key for the inclusion and acceptance of these kids.

Also, I firmly believe that there is some kind of environmental trigger that is going on that we are not seeing for some reason. I don't believe all the studies are conclusive. I believe that we need to look at the vaccine schedule, especially for boys, because boys will get this disorder four times more than girls will. And I think we need to study susceptibility, which children are more susceptible to falling into autism, so to speak, if they get overloaded.

I think my son, for instance, had a compromised immune system on the day he was given way too many shots. This was before thimerosal was removed. I think we have to revisit and study susceptibility when it comes to vaccines. And I think we need to talk about treatment: How do we get treatment in the hands of families who can't afford it. The first thing you are told is you have to get your kid diagnosed early and then you have got to get them right into therapy. But they don't tell you how much that therapy costs and the therapy isn't covered by insurance, so we have got to get treatment in the hands of the families that need it.

So you are not anti vaccine?

Holly Robinson Peete: Absolutely not, I am not anti vaccine, but it needs to change. It is not a perfect science. I have four kids. I have a pediatrician that I work with and I pick and chose what we feel my kids need to get and when they need to get them. Vaccines have saved millions of lives and continue to save millions of lives, but I am not going to sit back and have someone tell me that a shot like an MMR shot (measles, mumps and rubella), which was given to my son when he went in as a totally healthy boy and had a horrible reaction, and then I lost him to autism. I am not going to have someone tell me, "Okay, now go give them to your two other young boys" without asking a lot of questions, or getting the shot split up. I think there is gray area and we need to get out of the black-and-white scenario. I have people walk up to me every day and say, "I am scared to death to vaccinate my kids, but I am scared to death not to."

"Private Practice" did an episode about a child who died from measles because his mother was afraid to vaccinate him because his brother became autistic after being vaccinated.

Holly Robinson Peete: I saw that. That was really interesting. There are not that many cases of kids dying of the measles, because if there were, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) would have them on the front page every day. There are not that many cases, but I have had this conversation with my friends and I have had people tell me, "I would rather my kid have autism than die of measles." First of all, anybody who doesn't have a kid on the spectrum has no business saying that, because it is such a hard scenario on so many levels. There is an 80 percent divorce rate. There is the emotional toll it takes on your entire family. There is the financial toll, which is ridiculous.

There are 33 vaccines that are basically recommended right now. There were only 10 in 1988. I think the kids are being loaded up a little too much. I don't like the concept that you can't talk about it, or if you talk about the fact that it needs to change, you are labeled "anti vaccine." I know that my child had a terrible reaction. I saw what I saw. I have talked to some pediatricians who have told me that some kids can't tolerate them, so we need to be studying who those kids are.

The most recent case I heard of was the three families -- the Cedillos, the Hazelhursts and the Snyders -- who sought compensation from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, but the panel ruled earlier this year that they had not presented sufficient evidence to prove that the childhood vaccines caused autism in their children.

Holly Robinson Peete: Who is supposed to provide that evidence? They don't accept anecdotal evidence as sufficient. For every one of those -- if we could get the names of the people who have been paid out by the vaccine injury court -- there are lots of families and millions of dollars have been paid out. The reason why is because there is such a thing as vaccine injury and there is such a thing as causation, especially in the Hannah Poling case, which the CDC tried to stick under the radar, but it ended up getting some news coverage. She had some mitochondrial condition that they definitely said brought on her autism, and who else is out there with that same predisposition? That is what we need to be studying and we need to stop playing, as my husband would say, defense and play offense a little more. I am not anti vaccine. It is just not a one-size-fits-all scenario, and I want every kid to be protected.