Ledbetter Helps Parents Navigate Sometimes Choppy Waters of Raising A Child With Asperger's Syndrome
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- For some parents, learning their child has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome is sometimes followed by shock and questions on what to do next, but Richard Ledbetter has the experience to make their paths a lot easier to navigate.
Richard Ledbetter, chief information officer at PSCU Financial Services, has been down that road. His 17-year old son Taylor has Asperger, a developmental disorder that exhibits deficiencies in social and communication skills. Those with the diagnosis typically have normal to very superior IQ but may have difficulty with transitions or changes and prefer routines. Taylor, a budding animation artist and writer, is extremely bright, Ledbetter said, but for most of his young life he has had "low social skills." Certain social cues such as reading facial expressions and body language have to be taught to those with Asperger, Ledbetter said.
"We knew something was wrong when Taylor was about three," Ledbetter recalled saying Taylor wasn't reaching certain milestones in speech and other areas for children his age.
Both Ledbetter and his wife Missy brought it to the attention of Taylor's doctor, who, too, was stumped on what could be wrong. The Ledbetters soon set out on a mission gathering as much research as they could before finding information on Asperger that convinced the couple that their son showed all the "symptoms" of the syndrome. Although "it was hard in the beginning," Ledbetter said they learned along the way how to work with Taylor's teachers, administrators, the school system and people in the community on how to work with their son and his special needs.
"You are the child's advocate. The public schools are packed and sometimes they don't have the time or resources to focus on your child," Ledbetter said. "But when you get involved, everything changes. For us, we were fortunate that Taylor's teachers really wanted to help him."
That meant allowing Taylor to leave the room if he felt any sort of anxiety coming on and requesting a teacher's aide in his classroom, Ledbetter said. It also meant ensuring that Taylor's individual education plan or IEP had all the necessary resources for him to succeed at school. The Ledbetters consistently
remind parents that they have federal rights when it comes to their child's special needs. They both encourage a peaceful approach to making sure everyone is on the page.
"When you get lawyers involved, everybody stops talking and in the end, you're just hurting the child," he said.
Ledbetter was one of several in the community to serve on a Hillsborough County council that came up with strategies to not only woo and retain speech and physical therapists in public schools but to make sure that they were spending more time with the children and "not just filling out paperwork."
Today, teachers still ask about Taylor even though he has already graduated from high school--he graduated earlier than his peers because the course work came easy to him, Ledbetter said. Taylor wants to do animation for movies similar to the popular ones done by Pixar and Dreamworks. He has just completed a book on what it was like growing up with Asperger and is waiting on dad to insert his parts.
"I'm holding him up [from being published]," Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter and his wife now get calls from parents who have newly-diagnosed children wondering where to turn. The Ledbetters have a road map that suggests how and who to talk at the school level. Missy, Ledbetter's wife, continues to work with several support groups in the area. The couple believes having a "typical" sibling can help children with Asperger develop their social skills. Karli, Taylor's 19-year old sister, made up her mind when they were growing up that he would have to interact with her during play time. Today, they are very close and Karli "is very protective" of her baby brother. The family's church even considers Taylor's needs. Ledbetter said Taylor has an aversion to certain noises so the church's staff have a quiet room with a monitor should he wish to hear the sermon away from people.
But Ledbetter wants to make it clear that Taylor's story is not a "woe is me" pity one. If anything, anyone who knows Taylor, quickly learns that they have to be on their Ps and Qs when talking with him because of his high intelligence.
"I'm a better person because of my son. I don't have any worries because he's taught me not to stress over the small stuff," Ledbetter said. "It hasn't always been easy but it has been fun and rewarding."