When Kate Swenson first heard of the contest being put on by Jimmy Fallon and Today Parents that required kids to say “mama,” she couldn’t help but realize that Cooper ― her 6-year-old son who has autism and is nonverbal ― wouldn’t be able to participate.
Then she decided she would figure out how Cooper could be a part of it in his own way.
Kate submitted a video to the contest, which celebrated Fallon’s new children’s book, Everything Is Mama, that shows her explaining that Cooper uses a speech device to communicate.
Using the Proloquo2Go app on an iPad, Cooper shows how he communicates the word “mama” in the video. Because most insurance companies don’t cover the cost of such products, Kate noted that Talk To Me Technologies offers discounts and grants to help people like her son communicate.
“I was told at a very young age that I should prepare to never hear Cooper’s voice, and that’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to expect,” Kate said in the video. “So we got one of these talking devices.”
Kate and Cooper’s submission won the contest and a spot at Fallon’s book release party in New York City, with no worries about airfare or hotel costs. Kate attended with her husband, Jamie. Cooper was invited to come, but Kate told HuffPost he most likely wouldn’t be comfortable at the event.
“He really wouldn’t enjoy something like that,” she said. “He likes to be home comfortable and in his safe space.”
In New York, Kate and Jamie enjoyed a Yankees baseball game, visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum and strolled through Little Italy and Chinatown.
“We just relaxed and were a couple, to be honest,” she said.
Kate told HuffPost that through her submission she hopes to normalize what it’s like to have a child with autism.
“I just really want autism to be a part of the conversation,” she said. “I want the world to see that it’s not scary and it’s not sad.”
She noted that many people express sympathy after hearing Cooper’s diagnosis, but those sentiments don’t match up with her feelings at all: “I say, ‘No, he’s the coolest kid you will ever meet.’”