Holly Robinson Peete has her plate full for the next couple of months. The "21 Jump Street" actress has a reality show debuting on the OWN network and she plans to release book about autism, titled “Same But Different” that she co-authored with two of her children. The 52-year-old actress has been a vocal about autism since her now 18-year-old son R.J. was diagnosed at the age of 3. Peete lives in Los Angeles with her ex-quarterback husband Rodney Peete and their four children. She spoke to FOX411 about it all.
FOX411: Tell us about your reality show.
Holly Robinson Peete: It's called "For Peete's Sake." Remember the show "Run's House" on MTV? So if "Run's House" and "Blackish" had a baby it would be "For Peete's Sake." It's humor, heart and tension and we cover the autism which I've never seen in a reality show before, a young man trying to get a job and fit into society so I think those images are really powerful and should help with awareness. We talk about Rodney's post-football issues and that transition. There are moments when we get real but mostly it's funny and light. My mom is 80 and dating so there's that. I feel good about the platform and I'm excited about it.
FOX411: How did this book come about?
Peete: As we continue our autism journey there are so many different hurdles and plateaus and valleys along the way. I think what was really interesting for us was our son becoming a teenager and what that brought and the unique perspective to have my son and daughter be twins and go on this journey together, we thought it would be an awesome way to chronicle teen life on the autism express through the eyes of these twins, one with autism, one without and we thought that would be a really unique approach and an awesome voice to tell the story.
It's semi-autobiographical, there are a lot of other people's family stories that we've woven in but I'm extra proud that my son R.J… has his voice heard in this book.
FOX411: Is he going to college this year?
Peete: Well, his twin sister is about to go to college and in some ways that's reminded us of the diagnosis all over again. It just reminded us of his deficits and what he can and can't achieve, and it's reminded him. He's been very vocal about being frustrated-- what can he do, what can he do well and [being] faced with, 'My twin sister is going off to college but I'm not.' It's a difficult transitional period for us right now so to have the book coming out right now feels very cathartic.
FOX411: No one was talking about autism when you first started.
Peete: Absolutely no one. Let me tell you the difference it would have made for me. When we get that diagnosis, I'll never forget that awful day when we first got that diagnosis and we went out to the waiting room and we were sad and crying, and if I had looked on the coffee table in the waiting room, for example, and I had seen a couple talking and sharing about their experience, that would have given us so much hope. So we knew that and we knew we had to use that platform.
FOX411: Were you nervous about coming forward?
Peete: Oh yeah we had a big family discussion beforehand because Rodney like a lot of men, dads, had a lot of trouble processing the whole diagnosis. Macho football player and his son, his namesake, he always envisioned him playing ball like his dad and all that stuff. He had all these preconceived ideas of what his son was going to be and then someone tells you in one second that he's not going to be all those things so that was tough. He wasn't ready to share that till R.J. was closer to 8 or 9, and then I had to do a hard sell, 'I really think we're the family to do this. I want to put a face on this. There's too much stigma. We've got to do something.'
FOX411: Also for people of color.
Peete: I have two of my really good friends, Tisha Cambell- Martin and Toni Braxton and the three of us have leaned on each other to try and get the African-American community to talk about autism because, yes, culturally there is a stigma and not just in our community, in a lot of communities. There is a cultural stigma of any kind of brain issues, we don't like to talk about it so as a result especially in the African-American community, kids are getting diagnosed two to five years later than other kids. They're missing that window of time where you've got to get in and get intervention. So we like to really get out there. But l'm so glad there is more awareness now.
FOX411: Why do you think the numbers are exploding?
Peete: I have many theories. There's definitely better diagnosis but that can't explain all these people. I feel like there's some kind of environmental factor that we're not looking at. I don't know what it is but I do feel that there's something that we're not looking at. I don't know if there's some kind of genetic pre-disposition and there are triggers but you're seeing more autism and a lot more allergies and ADHD. I think it's got to be something environmentally.