There’s no testimony without a test. Ain’t that what the elders always say? Looking back over my life, I know it’s been true for me time and time again. And the bigger the test, the bigger that testimony. Of course, at the time it rarely feels good and victorious, but at some point while going through you’re reminded that you’re equipped to handle whatever the storm brings. That’s what I was reminded of listening to Sharonda and Shawn Stockman speak about the makings of their beautiful family and going through the battle of a lifetime against a silent illness.
As a founding member of Boyz II Men, the best-selling R&B group of all time (over 60 million albums sold) and one of the most influential groups in music history, Shawn Stockman is no stranger to the spotlight. Yet, when you think of Black power couples in entertainment, Shawn and Sharonda Stockman may be names that fly beneath the radar. You don’t hear anything crazy and scandalous about them. You don’t see photos of them in regular blog rotation, styling and profiling on red carpets.The reality is, they are too busy using their power – physical, mental, spiritual and even the celebrity kind – to fight autism on behalf of their family and millions of families all over the country through their foundation, Micah’s Voice.
A Dream Deferred
The couple’s first pregnancy resulted in the birth of twin boys, Micah and Ty. Like any new parents, the Stockmans had only the grandest of visions of what life with their sons would be like. “I definitely had that vision of perfection when we got married and having our first set of kids because I thought everything was gonna play exactly the way I had mapped out in my head,” recalls Sharonda. “We went through in vitro to get pregnant – for me to get pregnant rather – and for it to finally happen I had challenges and I just had planned out in my head that everything was gonna be perfect and this smooth sailing and, ‘We’re gonna have boys and oh my gosh they’re gonna play sports and they’re gonna do this and they’re gonna do that.’ So obviously when the diagnosis came for Micah it felt like I was in a dream and I couldn’t believe that actually what I had envisioned in my head happening for me and my new husband and partner as well as my family [wasn’t happening]. It was devastating. So, it was like a life-changing moment.”
As Shawn attests, “we expected a different outcome, specifically with our children and one in particular. It definitely throws you for a loop and it basically taught us that life is not predictable.”
A Mother’s Intuition
Micah’s development began to regress shortly after the twin’s first birthday and it was Sharonda who first noticed a change. It was a surprise because when they were born Ty was the nervous one, who cried a lot and was easily spooked. “He was the one I was really worried about,” Sharonda says laughing. Micah, on the other hand, met all his milestones. “Micah gave you eye contact. He rolled over first. He crawled first. He took his steps first. He talked first,” she says of their son’s early months.
But, it was at their first birthday party that Sharonda noticed Micah crying more than usual and being very antisocial. After the party, it seemed that all the things he used to say before he was one she couldn’t get him to say anymore, at least, not without a lot of effort. His communication diminished and he struggled to hold steady eye comtact. Sharonda knew something was going on and brought her concerns to Shawn, who wasn’t trying to hear it at the time that anything was “wrong” with their son.
Developmentally, Ty began to catch up to Micah and soon surpassed him. That’s when Sharonda took him to a doctor, who completely blew her off, telling her “He’s fine. Twins are different. They switch personalities. Don’t worry.” So, she tried not. She wanted to believe he was fine and everything really was okay, just like her husband and their doctor said.
Then an undeniable blow hit.
“By the time he was reaching two, Micah was completely silent. I could barely get him to say a word. His eye contact was gone,” says Sharonda. She went back to the doctor and demanded that she send them to a specialist. Sharonda hoped it was only a speech issue, “something you can tweak a little bit at the end of the day,” but after about three visits with a speech pathologist it was determined they were dealing with something much more serious than a speech problem. Shortly after having more in depth testing done, Micah was diagnosed with autism.
Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ADS) are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. The Autism Speaks website states, “These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.”
According to a 2014 report, regressive autism – in which young children lose early language and social skills – are twice as common for African American children as for white children.