As Cooper Leamon grew into a toddler, it became apparent to his parents, Trever and Laura, that their son's verbal skills were behind other children at the same age.
He'd often grunt or squeal when pointing toward things he wanted, and say “Ugg” like a caveman, the family described. Cooper became an expert at charades, acting out what he wanted.
Eventually, he was diagnosed with phonological disorder, a functional speech sound problem that includes distortions and substitutions. Cooper started more than two years ago with therapy three times a week, and now at age 4 goes twice weekly. He's catching up on his verbal skills and is on track to start kindergarten.
Inspired by Cooper's progress overcoming his struggles, his grandmother Carol LaBov has written the children's book “The Cave Boy who would be President,” illustrated by local artist Al McLuckie.
It is LaBov's hope that the book will inspire other families who may be going through the same trials with a loved one's disability.
“I did this to see if I could help him in some way because he's an amazing, loving and intelligent boy,” said LaBov, the co-owner of LaBov and Beyond marketing firm with her husband, Barry. “As I witnessed Cooper's struggles and the whole family's frustrations, I thought surely other people have to endure this, too, and maybe this could help them.
“As much as we loved him, it was hard to watch him try to communicate by pointing at something, taking your hand and walking you over to what he wanted. All these things that I share in the book are things we went through, and maybe that can help others.”
It's why she is donating all the proceeds from the book to Turnstone Center for Children with Disabilities and its children's speech therapy program. The book, which was self-published in July, costs $15 and can be ordered at caveboybook.com or eventually on Amazon.
The major theme is that no matter what might be unique or different about a child, they can always achieve greatness no matter what might be holding them back. That's where the “president” part of the story comes in. LaBov's ultimate goal is for Cooper to be a politician who becomes “famous for saying only what he meant, for listening and working hard to keep his promises.”
“He's really improved with his speech a lot, but even when it was difficult to understand him, he could understand everything that was said,” said Laura, Cooper's mom. “He would do charades or try and make the sounds and he always wanted to be so engaged with everyone. His speech therapist said that what's so great about him. Even when people couldn't understand him, he didn't get discouraged and give up until you understood what he was saying.”
Though LaBov has written skits for the women's group at The Chapel and was an English major in college, this is the first time she has attempted to write a book, beginning it in January 2020.
It's also McLuckie's first time illustrating an entire book.
As news of the book continues to spread, LaBov said she's continually hearing from others who have similar situations among their families and friends.
“People will be moved by it, I think, hopefully, because it's about a really sweet kid,” McLuckie said. “We all want to move toward healing and living as well as we can. I think we are trying to tell this in a way that might resonate with people and prove to be motivational and encouraging for a kid.”