Shawn Stockman is famous for his soulful singing voice and as a member of the multiplatinum R&B group Boyz II Men, and recently audiences have enjoyed his stint as a judge on NBC's The Sing-Off.
Boyz II Men are currently in the midst of The Package Tour, performing in arenas across the country, along with New Kids on the Block and 98 Degrees. They are also the resident entertainers at the famous Mirage, in Las Vegas, NV, though the end of this year.
But what some fans may not realize is that Shawn and his wife, Sharhonda, have faced one of the most difficult challenges any parent can face – their son has autism. Now the Stockmans have a new mission in life – to give their son the best life possible while helping other parents who have special-needs children.
Shawn and Sharonda met in 1993, married in 2001, and in 2003 welcomed their twins, Ty and Micah. The two beautiful boys lit up their lives. But at around age 1, Micah suddenly began to change. Although he’d been talking, walking, and communicating, he suddenly withdrew into himself, as if a light had been extinguished. It took a year and frequent trips to the pediatrician before they had an answer: Micah was diagnosed with autism.
The couple was devastated. “When we first got the diagnosis, I felt Micah was taken from me,” said Sharhonda, speaking in a video on their new website, MicahsVoice.com.
Shawn said was at a loss, unsure how to help his family. Micah’s condition set in motion a journey to find the best doctors, therapists, and services. Luckily, fame and financial wherewithal were on their side and they were able to locate good care, and they were excited to see progress as their son worked with a behaviorist at home and in his private school. Their feeling that they were blessed to be able to afford this level of autism care for their own child led them to become advocates for everyone’s autistic children.
“Just from helping our son, we felt like, hey, let’s support other people,” Shawn said in a recent interview. “Let’s give people a blueprint of all the things they need to do based on the mistakes we made. Let’s put it on the site. Let’s give them the information so they don’t have to walk through the same mess we had to walk through.”
They worked closely with the advocacy organization Autism Speaks and then founded their own non-profit, Micah’s Voice, which they are building into an autism community and information center a place for families to gather online. They also plan to create a structure for helping families financially.
Micah is now 9 years old and in a special school program, where he learns self-help techniques that that will move him toward greater independence. The Stockmans have worked hard to balance Micah's needs with those of his brother, Ty, who is not affected by autism but who is often impacted by his brother's condition. The newest member of the family, little sister Brooklyn, is now 3 years old.
We spoke with Shawn about his experience in the world of autism and his goal of helping other families.
Everyday Health: What was it like when you first suspected that Micah had autism?
Shawn Stockman: Actually, my wife noticed it before I did. She noticed that there was a decline in his progression as far as being able to speak and talk to us. He seemed to be a little more dismal and. As my wife puts it, “the light started fading from his eyes.” The ironic part about it is he was he was the first to talk, first to walk, and did all of these things first [before his twin, Ty]. For him to slowly decline the way that he did, my wife instantly took notice, which was after he turned 1. We had him diagnosed at 2. My wife was adamant about it. Me, being the dad… I was in denial at first, because you never want to think of anything being wrong with your son.
EH: So you are new parents, of twins no less, and you now must find a way to help the twin who is affected by autism. It must have been a confusing and difficult journey.
Shawn: There isn’t anything more profound than something like that happening to your child. My wife and I were going through a lot trying to find the right remedy, the right solution for him. Autism is unique in the sense that every case is diverse. One kid is not the same as the next kid. There are all types of therapists and behaviorists, and supplements and types of information that you can get. Finding the right remedy for your son or daughter is like putting pieces together to a puzzle, because every kid is different. In fact, the symbol for the organization Autism Speaks is the puzzle piece. What might work for one child might not work for another. You have to go through a long, sometimes daunting process. On the other end — and this is the unique thing about autism — is the fact that a lot of these kids are talented and incredibly intelligent; they do, I think, superhuman things. Outside of them having a social disorder and mental development disorder, in other aspects they develop an expertise in different things and master it to the point of genius.
EH: It seems that parents with special-needs kids ultimately are more expert about the condition than the experts.
Shawn: There are a lot of instances, with a lot of conditions, that so-called specialists and scientists can learn from those living with those conditions. Specifically with autism, the parents are key to the specialist finding different ways to cure the condition. The parents who deal with their child every day see the changes in a negative way, in a positive way, what worked for this child and what didn’t work. So much data is collected by parents. Every story is unique. Every story is different… yet could lend itself to someone else’s story.
Autism associations and support networks are key for families touched by autism. How have you gotten involved?
Shawn: We are strong supporters of Autism Speaks. They are an incredible organization. They’ve helped millions of people and raised a lot of money to help fight against autism, and it’s a great organization. They’ve also helped support our organization, Micah’s Voice, which started this past April, with the site and the nonprofit [status]. We’re really just still very much new to this whole thing, as far as creating an organization to help people. But, that’s the mission and that’s what we’ll continue to do. As the site grows and continues to develop you’ll see hopefully even greater strides in helping parents.
EH: Sounds like you have found a silver lining to autism.
Shawn: Our symbol for Micah’s Voice is a smile. In the midst of the things that parents go through with their children, we also want to give them the sense of hope, that everything can be better if you do the right thing by your respective child or children. I’ve read cases where parents have more than one child with the condition. Hope still can be found in the right situations if done right. It’s important to give the child the right opportunity and right chances to be in the midst of the professionals on this Earth — and in this country — who specialize in helping children with autism. This is our lifelong mission: to help other parents to give their child a shot at just a normal life.
EH: What do you hope to accomplish with Micah’s Voice?
Shawn: Our sole mission, as far as Micah’s Voice, is to raise enough money to sponsor maybe one, two, maybe even three families; to sponsor supplements, payment for therapists, and doctors for a whole year so we can give their particular kid a kick-start. At that point, hopefully, they’d have amassed information because it’s not just about giving the money; it’s about providing a means to educate those parents on how to continue to help their child. It’s about raising money, and helping parents get their kick start but also about giving them the ability to help them (the kids) out throughout their lives.
EH: As you and your wife can give back to the community, it must be emotionally supportive for the two of you as well.
Shawn: Absolutely. I mean we have had our moments…moments where it was really trying on the marriage. This brand new issue, that none of us were ready for, took us for a loop for a second. I think the biggest accomplishment for us thus far was to stay together, and stay together amidst the drama and the mess we were going through personally because of our son. We managed to work through it. Now we are here, understanding a little bit more what it is that we need to do.
EH: Do you feel you can use celebrity to get attention to the cause?
Shawn: This is the reason I’m a celebrity. I didn’t know that until now. This is the reason why, or partially why, I‘m in the position that I’m in — to use the celebrity for a bigger cause, because autism is bigger than everybody on this planet. I’m going to do what I can to help bring awareness, and education, to parents.
The 1-in-50 statistic is fairly new [that 1 in every 50 children has autism]; just last year it was 1 in 88. It’s serious, and for those people who don’t know anything about it or feel they don’t need to know about it, it’s time to open your eyes and realize, It’s safe to say that everybody will know someone who has a child with autism. It’s getting more and more serious as the days go by and as the years go by. There are interventions that need to happen regarding vaccines, plastic bottles with which we feed our babies. Nobody really understands the theories on how a child gets autism, and all of those things need to be questioned, checked out, and exploited because there are truths to it. We just need to figure it out and make sure that there aren’t any more cases and that number doesn’t get any higher.
EH: Will you be singing for autism awareness and doing benefits?
Shawn: Absolutely. We will do benefit shows. Again, we are fairly new and are definitely talking about putting certain things together. These things take time and careful planning. We want to make sure we do it correctly and the point gets across first and foremost. [There may be] presentations for those people who need to get the information and are inspired to help even more after the event. That’s the biggest thing. Second, it’s got to be nice, got to be fly, and have a certain type of fabulous type of soul to it. Ultimately, it’s about the message, the goal and the mission.
Find out more about MicahsVoice.com