Mom Next Door: Carla Robbins / Flight attendant

WORDS
Ellen Rossetti
PHOTOGRAPHY
Nick Predergast
PUBLISHED
May 2017 in
DFWThrive
UPDATED
April 25, 2017
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 “And you’re gonna hear me roar…” Those six words, lyrics from Katy Perry’s 2013 single “Roar” bring tears to Carla Robbins’ eyes even today, nearly four years after her son Jack, now 12, first uttered them. That’s because they were the first six words that the Frisco mom’s severely autistic and epileptic son spontaneously strung together. And it made him an internet sensation.

You may recognize him.
 
Robbins, 45, a self-described music-lover (the entire family is) says it’s not uncommon for her to have tunes playing in the house or in the car. It’s kind of always on. But there wasn’t any background music playing the day she shot the video of Jack, then 8, singing Perry’s hit song. Robbins put the recording on YouTube, and it went viral, quickly amassing more than 600,000 views. Robbins and Jack appeared locally on News 8 Daybreak and were featured on Today.com too. The 35-second video that received national attention marked a monumental success for Jack and brought some clarity for his mom as well.
 
“It was just groundbreaking for us because we realized he was in there paying attention,” Robbins explains. “He has likes and dislikes, and he wanted us to know.”
 
Before his online debut, Jack hadn’t been able to convey feelings or emotions. Robbins describes him as generally a very easy-going kid. She never knew if the food, clothes, activities she presented him with were things he favored or hated. He was only able express his most basic and immediate needs with single words like “snack” and “water.”
 
Now, four years later, not too much has changed. Jack still communicates with simple words, but he is better about giving opinions: He sings snippets of songs he likes (“Macho Man” by the Village People, “It’s Tricky” by Run DMC, “We Will Rock You” by Queen and “Throwing Stones” by the Grateful Dead are current favorites) and asks for more food or refuses it, depending on his preferences that day.
 
It’s progress. Slow progress, but progress nonetheless.
 
Jack started speaking shortly after his first birthday. “Mamma,” “Dada,” “duck,” “dog” and “ball” were part of his daily verbal repertoire — or at least the beginning sounds of those words. But at 18 months, Jack stopped using his words, and Carla, a longtime Southwest flight attendant (21 years to be exact), and her husband, Brent, an underwriter at American National Bank of Texas, began to worry. “When we tried to get him to say those things, he couldn’t,” Robbins recalls.
 
They started him in intense speech therapy shortly after his second birthday. A few months later, Jack was diagnosed with autism — right before little brother Joe was born. He began applied behavior analysis (ABA) at 3 and occupational therapy followed the year after that.
 
And ever since, it’s been a busy, busy schedule: Robbins spends four days of her week shuttling Jack to therapy sessions and Joe, now 10, to karate or soccer practice, running the household and cooking organic and dairy- and gluten-free meals for her family. Plus, she serves as a board member for the National Autism Association of North Texas (NAA-NT), a nonprofit she got involved with three years ago that provides families dealing with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with financial and educational support but also honors moms, teachers and therapists annually with special events like spa days, dinners and social time they may never get otherwise.
 
“It’s such a rewarding outlet,” Robbins admits. “I love meeting other warrior moms and seeing the bravery and strength they personify. I am constantly inspired by my fellow autism moms, and it brings me immense pleasure to help them in any small way.”
 
The other three days (weekends and one weekday) are spent in the air, an escape of sorts (she gets to wake without an alarm and skip cooking), that Robbins says helps her keep things in perspective. “[Flying] gives me a break, and I meet all kinds of people on the plane and see what others struggle with,” she says. “It reminds me that our family is not alone in our challenges.”
 
In her scarce spare time, she tries to make herself slow down and appreciate everyday moments at Jack’s pace. Right now, she enjoys that he responds to her request for a smile with the word “cheese.” It’s the little things.
 
She also prioritizes time with Joe, planning mother-son day dates to the movies or to get frozen treats at iCream or Purple Kiwi, both in Frisco. “It’s important to give Joe special one-on-one attention to let him know he’s important too,” she says.
 
She even manages to carve out time with her husband of 14 years. The couple usually spend their alone time snuggling on the couch watching something on DVR after both kids have gone to sleep.
 
And on her days off, the two hours between 1 and 3pm are reserved for her. “I have always felt, from the very beginning when Jack was first diagnosed, how important it is to take mental breaks,” Robbins says. “That’s not to say I don’t have my moments, some crying moments, feeling defeated and tired. But I do make it a priority to take care of myself.”
 
What does she do during her solitude? Sometimes she hits the gym and reads a book while climbing floors on the stair master. Sometimes she watches The Walking Dead. And sometimes she makes organic deodorant, a craft she started when she was pregnant with Joe and searching for natural options, to sell in her online Etsy boutique Wren’s Wellness.
 
In the seemingly nonstop bustle of everyday life, Robbins admonishes parents to remember to take time for themselves, even if it’s a few solitary moments in the car, music blasting, “’Cause I am the champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar…” at the top of your lungs. 

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