A new book by a local author tells the story of raising an autistic son.
Linda Ruth paused to wipe away the tears that were forming in the corners of her eyes.
There was pain in her voice as she resumed speaking to the crowd gathered inside the Conrad Weiser High School library on Wednesday night for the launch of her new book “One in Ten Thousand: For the Love of Lee, a Mother’s Story”.
The trauma of the memories she was reliving through her words was evident.
She spoke of a day in July 1976, of a visit to a psychologist. She and her husband, John, had noticed that something was wrong with their second son.
It was clear to his parents that Lee, who was only 3 at the time, had something wrong with him. But the young Robesonia couple had no idea what it was, nor did a series of doctors and psychologists they had visited.
The psychologist they visited that day in July 1976 did.
After observing Lee, he told Linda and John that Lee had autism. He suggested the little boy be placed in an institution, saying he could provide a list of facilities in the Philadelphia area.
Linda told the crowd that she “went black” after hearing those words, that she doesn’t remember the rest of the meeting. His world had been turned upside down. She was in a daze with her mind spiraling out of control.
As for the doctor’s suggestion that Lee be institutionalized, well, that would never happen, Linda said.
“Who puts a 3-year-old child in an institution? she said, reading an excerpt from her book. “Are they crazy? Don’t they have a heart?
But the psychologist’s recommendation was not uncommon in the mid-1970s. This was a time before autism was a household word, before the medical community knew much about it.
“It just wasn’t a word that ever came up in conversation,” Linda said.
Today, things are very different.
There is widespread awareness of autism thanks to persistent parents like Linda and John who have helped advance research and bring the disorder squarely into the public arena.
Today, Lee is 49 and lives with a caretaker in Shillington. His path to this point has not been easy, neither for him nor for his family.
“One in Ten Thousand: For the Love of Lee, A Mother’s Story,” Linda’s new self-published book, is about that journey. It details all the challenges, small victories, setbacks and memorable triumphs of raising an autistic child.
Linda, who is now retired after working for years as an assistant in the office of the high school guidance counselor Conrad Weiser, told the crowd that she believes everyone has a story to tell. But she never imagined putting her own on paper.
It was about seven years ago when a close friend, Beryll Ruth, suggested she write a book.
“I just brushed it off,” Linda said with a smile.
Despite the idea’s initial rejection, it began to grow. She decided that she wanted to, in fact, create a written record of what her family had been through.
She wanted her grandchildren to know what life was like for Lee and his brothers Bill and Matt.
The story, she says, is hopeful and full of encouragement. It’s a way of telling others the things she wished someone had told her all those years ago when her family’s journey was just beginning.
She said she wanted people to know that a mother’s love can make things happen, even something as big as the medical community. That she wants people to know that you can refuse to accept the status quo, that undying love for a child can help create miracles.
She wants to tell people that everything will be fine, that prayers will be answered – but not on your timeline.
Linda said she hopes that by sharing it, other families going through similar difficulties will find some comfort. She certainly found some while writing it.
“It was very therapeutic,” she said. “I had all these stories in my head. It was liberating to bring them out.