Linda Ruth paused to dab away the tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
There was pain in her voice as she began speaking again to the crowd gathered inside the Conrad Weiser High School library Wednesday evening 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 apparent.
She talked about a day in July 1976, about a visit to see a psychologist. She and her husband, John, had been noticing that something seemed off about their second-born son.
It was clear to his parents that Lee, just 3 at the time, had something wrong with him. But the young Robesonia couple had no idea what it was, and a series of doctors and psychologists they had visited did not know either.
The psychologist they visited on that July day in 1976 did.
After observing Lee, he told Linda and John that Lee was autistic. He suggested the little boy be placed in an institution, saying he could provide a list of facilities in the Philadelphia region.
Linda told the crowd that she “went black” after hearing those words, that she does not recall the rest of the meeting. Her world had been turned upside down. She was in a daze with her mind spinning out of control.
As for the doctor’s suggestion that Lee be institutionalized, well, that was not ever going to happen, Linda said.
“Who puts a 3-year-old 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 back in the mid-1970s. That was a time before autism was a word the general public was aware of, before the medical community knew much about it.
“It just was not a word that ever came up in conversation,” Linda said.
Today, things are much different.
There is widespread awareness of autism thanks to persistent parents like Linda and John who have helped push research forward and place the disorder squarely in the public arena.
Today, Lee is 49 years old and lives with a caretaker in Shillington. His path to that point was not any easy one, for him or 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 of the challenges, small victories, setbacks and momentous triumphs of raising a child with autism.
Linda, who is now retired after working for years as an aide in the guidance counselor’s office at Conrad Weiser High School, told the crowd that she believes everyone has a story to tell. But she never imagined putting hers down on paper.
It was about seven years ago when a close friend, Beryll Ruth, suggested she write a book.
“I just brushed her off,” Linda said with a smile.
Despite the initial dismissal of the idea, it began to grow. She decided she did, in fact, want to create a written record of what her family went through.
She wanted her grandkids to know what life was like for Lee and his brothers Bill and Matt.
The story, she said, is hopeful and full of encouragement. It’s a way to tell others the things she wishes someone would have told her all those years ago when her family’s journey was just beginning.
She said that she wants people to know that the love of a mother can push things forward, 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 all right, that prayers will be answered – just not on your timeline.
Linda said that she hopes by sharing it other families going through similar difficulties will find some comfort. She certainly found some through writing it.
“It was very therapeutic,” she said. “I had all of these stories in my mind. It was freeing to get them out. ”
Digital and paperback editions of “One in Ten Thousand: For the Love of Lee, a Mother’s Story” can be purchased through a variety of retailers including Barnes & Noble, Target and Amazon.