This mom and her non-verbal son with autism won Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Say Mama’ contest—and captured hearts everywhere

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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About the Author
Marie Rossiter
Marie is a freelance writer and content creator with more than 20 years of experience in journalism. She lives in southwest Ohio with her husband and is almost a full-fledged empty nest mom of two daughters. She loves music, reading, word games, and Walt Disney World. Visit Scripps News to see more of Marie's work.

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