April is National Autism Awareness Month and Sharhonda Stockman, wife of R&B singer and Boyz II Men member Shawn Stockman, is extremely busy. She is the proud and dedicated mother of daughter Brooklyn, 7, and 13-year-old twin boys Ty and Micah. Around his second birthday Micah was diagnosed with autism and since then the Stockmans have been committed to increasing awareness about the disorder. In 2013, the couple founded Micah’s Voice, a non-profit organization that provides support and financial assistance to families affected by autism.
Of course, it’s been challenging raising a child on the autism spectrum, but Sharhonda’s fortitude, resolve, and infectious optimism has made the road a little less bumpy. Later this month in Los Angeles, she and her husband will host their annual concert to benefit families with autistic children, which will also feature performances by Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Shawn. In the midst of preparing for the event, EBONY caught up with Sharhonda to talk about her journey and give other mothers of children on the spectrum tips on how not to forget about their own needs.
EBONY: Micah is 13. Is it easier raising an autistic teenager? As he gets older and gains more independence, does that simplify things for you?
Sharhonda Stockman: Yes. When he was younger, I was so stressed out because everything was so new. I had no clue what to do. It was trial and error. He wasn’t as present or responsible as he is now. He wasn’t as calm as he is now either. With him getting older, I like seeing all the work we have done in raising him. At 14, I’m starting to see all of the sweat, tears, arguments, laughter, and joy that have come with raising him. You can’t see it when they’re little because it’s hard and there’s so much work you have to put into it. But as he gets older, I do smile more.
EBONY: What would you tell a mother who’s stressed out and thinks she’s not doing a great job with her autistic child?
Stockman: That it’s OK to cry. Micah is 13, almost 14, and I still find myself taking on the burden at times. I’d be lying if I said it’s a walk in the park. You have to release all that pent up stress and pressure. People look at us and say ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ and half the time we don’t either. You think you can’t show that you’re weak, so you put on a façade like you have everything under control and it’s just not true. You can cry and acknowledge the fact that sometimes you feel defeated by the disorder. Almost 14 years later, I still feel defeated sometimes. It’s fine because there are ups and downs. The kids are constantly changing for the better and sometimes they take two or three steps back. When I have a good cry, it’s therapeutic—it’s like a clean slate for me and I get back on the path again and start over.
EBONY: Would you say that it’s also important to take time for yourself?
Stockman: Yes, give yourself time. There’s no pill or cough syrup that your child can take to make autism go away. Until there is a cure, this is a lifetime journey. So we mothers have to learn how to put things into perspective and make sure we’re taking care of ourselves. We lose ourselves trying to over achieve for our kids. I give 120 percent to Micah, another 100 to Ty, and another 100 to Brooklyn, and there is literally nothing left for me. I’m burned out. But what I’ve tried to do over the past year is take time for me. Sometimes you have be selfish and remove yourself from the situation for a little while. Go to the movies, get your hair done, go out to lunch. I’ll go to lunch by myself and have a glass of Chardonnay and there’s nothing wrong with that. You have to recharge.
EBONY: Micah’s Voice is such an important foundation. Other than the event that you have later this month, what else is the organization up to?
Stockman: We want to continue to give back to families and the community. We’re in the process of creating a center to introduce metronome therapy (a metronome is a device that produces a ticking sound at regular intervals. The therapy helps train the brain to match thought and movement to a steady metronome beat.) Kids on the spectrum are just trying to unlock the part of the brain that stimulates the verbal part. Through the metronome, we’ve seen that rhythm and music help increase language skills, especially since the kids love to sing and dance. Music is a form of expression and the metronome makes the children more comfortable to converse and interact with other kids, so it’s great from a social standpoint.
Tickets for “Micah’s Voice Presents a Very Special Evening with Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds and Shawn Stockman” on April 25, 2017, are available now at http://www.micahsvoice.com/events.
LaShieka Hunter is a freelance writer and editor based on Long Island, N.Y. Follow her on Twitter.