Hallmark actress Holly Robinson Peete in the movie Our Christmas Journey (Image: Crown Media)

Nik Sanchez is making history as the first actor with autism to portray a character on the spectrum in a Hallmark movie

Nik Sanchez is only 17 years old, but he’s already making history. The Orange County native is starring opposite Holly Robinson Peete and Lyriq Bent in Our Christmas Journey, the first Hallmark movie to include a character with autism.

His portrayal is even more remarkable because Sanchez himself is on the autism spectrum.

In a recent interview with Monsters & Critics, the actor talked about how he got into the business, what it was like to work with industry veterans Robinson Peete and Bent, and what he wishes people understood about autism.

Our Christmas Journey

In the movie, Sanchez plays 18-year-old Marcus, a young man on the autism spectrum who lives with his mother, Lena. When his father finds a space available in a program that helps adults with cognitive challenges learn to live independently, he is immediately interested. His mother, however, is hesitant. She isn’t sure that he is ready to live so far away or without her help.

The family travels upstate to visit the facility, and Lena is forced to confront the fact that she might be the one who can’t live without her son, not the other way around.

Robinson Peete and her husband, former NFL player Rodney Peete, have been vocal advocates for members of the autism community since their son, RJ, was diagnosed with the condition as a young child. In 1993 they founded the HolyRod Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness and providing resources to families that have a loved one who has received an autism or Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.

“It was extremely frustrating to have behaviors that you can’t control and then get put down for them, or get talked about, or not have a friendship because of it, or your mom’s nagging at you because of it,” Peete said in an interview with Monsters & Critics.

"Our Christmas Journey" (Image: Crown Media)
"Our Christmas Journey" (Image: Crown Media)

About Sanchez

Sanchez was diagnosed at a young age with autism and ADHD. His mother enrolled him in acting classes at the age of five because he enjoyed role-playing.

“The instructor told me I wouldn’t do well because I had the attention span of a gnat,” Sanchez said in an interview.

He continued role-playing on his own until a few years back, when he was signed with a Hollywood agent. Soon after, he booked his first role as a recurring character on the ABC series The Rookie.

The experience taught him a lot.

“..I didn’t realize we’d have to do the scenes over and over and over again, because of the angles and the camera changes,” he said. “I gained a much higher respect for the actors.”

He said he liked the script for Our Christmas Journey because it was an accurate portrayal of life with autism.

“In real autistic families, everybody is affected,” he said. “Everybody plays a role and this movie really portrays that.”

Sanchez described working with Robinson Peete as “amazing.”

“Working with her was probably the closest I’ll ever get to making a movie with my own mom,” he said. “She just knew things. Being around her felt very natural from day one.”

The actor said he wishes people would stop seeing autism as something negative.

“Autism isn’t a weakness,” he said. “…For me, I say that I’m awesomely autistic because I view autism as my superpower. My autism allows me to view the world in a different way.”

Back To Top