This Mom And Her Non-Verbal Son With Autism Won Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Say Mama’ Contest—And Captured Hearts Everywhere
Her son may not speak, but he has a voice!
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One mom’s emotional journey with her son has led the pair into the national spotlight, thanks to an honest and touching video. Kate Swenson’s 6-year-old son, Cooper, is on the autism spectrum and doesn’t talk. So, when she saw an invitation from Today’s Parents to share videos of their kids saying “mama,” her heart fell.
The call for videos was part of a contest tied to Jimmy Fallon’s new children’s book, “Everything is Mama.” The grand prize winners would receive a free, VIP trip to New York City for the book launch party.
Swenson first looked at the invite as simply “another thing we can’t participate in,” she wrote in a Facebook post. However, after a little while, something changed in her mind and in her heart. She realized that Cooper did indeed have something to share with the world.
Cooper is eating ALL DAY LONG. He's growing like a moose and genuinely hungry. I find it to be a struggle since he only eats a small variety of foods. Keeping it in our house is impossible. We go through 2 quarts of strawberries, a large bag of veggie straws/GF chips and pounds of chicken so quickly. I don't understand how he doesn't get sick of the same foods over and over again. He's a growing boy…which is great! But I sure wish he'd cut me a break an eat other foods! #autism
For three years, Swenson and Cooper have worked with the Proloquo2Go system. Cooper has a specialized tablet created by Talk to Me Technologies that allows him to communicate with the world, even though he cannot yet speak.
“I realized how foolish I was being,” she posted. “My son says mama a million times every single dang day with the aid of a speech device. And that doesn’t make it any less of a ‘mama’ because it’s coming out of a computer.”
Sawyer is trying on his costume and Super Cooper is getting excited by his energy. I love when this happens. We added a trick-or-treat button to his talker and he's asked both dad and I. The Swenson family is going to rock it this year! #halloween #costumes #autism #siblings #nonverbal #speechdevice #proloquo2go
How does it work? Watch Cooper and his mom demonstrate in the heartwarming video they submitted to the contest:
This story has a happy ending, of course. Swenson went from thinking she couldn’t post a video at all to winning the contest! She and her husband, Jamie, had the opportunity to go to New York City to celebrate their son and their sweet victory. It was the first vacation the couple had since their honeymoon.
The couple shared photos of the two of them enjoying some well deserved quality time together:
And, as promised, the proud mama got to meet Jimmy Fallon at his book-signing party.
Cooper has made significant progress since he was diagnosed with autism three years ago. Doctors warned the family they might never hear Cooper’s voice. In her blog, Finding Cooper’s Voice, the mom of two talks candidly about raising a special needs child.
“There is an element of grief that goes into raising a child with special needs,” she wrote. “That statement offends some people while parents of kiddos with needs are nodding their heads…Never once did I factor in having a child with severe needs. I pictured baseball games, funny conversations and bike riding — not doctor’s offices, IEP’s and communication devices…I felt the need to grieve the little boy that I had pictured in order to accept the life I was given. My advice to parents is to give yourself time to accept your child’s diagnosis. You are human. Cut yourself some slack. And then you will be able to love the child that you have in an even stronger way.”
Sawyer and I are hanging out in the bathroom for a while tonight. We needed a break from autism. And it's ok to say that. Cooper has become super obsessive over the lights. It's a real problem that I need to wrap my brain around and attempt to fix. I'm going to need to get creative. Last night he screamed for two hours over the lights being on. (This is not a sensory thing.) As he gets more agitated because we won't shut them off and sit in the dark, he starts increasing his behaviors. Louder screaming, pushing his brother and the dogs, throwing, knocking the lamps over, etc. We will redirect him to his bedroom and he will be fine as long as we are sitting next to him in his room. The second we come out the behavior starts over. This ones getting really hard. If we give in and shut the lights off he tries to wrestle with his brother…who most often does not want too. He runs, rolls, tears apart couches and bedding. In his mind he is playing. He doesn't understand how his behavior is not always ok or wanted. We are all tired tonight. And the behavior is starting in the living room. So Sawyer and I are hiding out for a bit. Sometimes it's just needed. #autism www.findingcoopersvoice.com
Today, Cooper shows interest in learning how to use his voice and speak to others. There are good days and bad days, Swenson admits. However, it’s all part of the journey the family is taking together.
“We laugh and cry and struggle. I share the good, the bad and the ugly,” Swenson writes.