Autism Mom: Ruth Christ Sullivan Part 1 - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Autism Mom: Ruth Christ Sullivan Part 1

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This Mother's Day one mom, to whom many owe a debt of gratitude,  is Ruth Christ
Sullivan.

She's considered a pioneer in the field of autism and is from Lake Charles.  Her son, Joseph, was the focus of study for the movie 'Rain Man.'

Sullivan recently returned to Lake Charles for her 90th birthday celebration and talked about her family's journey dealing with autism.

A documentary from the sixties called 'Autism: The Invisible Wall,' Ruth and her son Joseph Sullivan, ho at 18 months had all the classic symptoms of autism.

"It's the social skills.  That's what's so damaged.  They do not have social skills the way most people do.  And classic autism, you see if very early.  By 18 months you can still see that they're not making eye contact, they don't have speech the way a normal child, or they'll have speech and then it's gone," explained Sullivan.

"Most children want mommy, mommy, mommy.  This one wants to sit in a corner and rock four hours at a time," she said.

In fact Joseph, who is an autistic savant, was studied by Dustin Hoffman as he researched his role for the movie 'Rain Man.'

"My sister meets me at the airport and says call your office.  So I called it and it was Dustin Hoffman's office and his office wanted to know if I would have time while I was in Los Angeles to see Dustin Hoffman.  You know I made time," said Ruth, of one of the memorable times.

Sullivan says 'Rain Man' is a very accurate portrayal.  She says Joseph's favorite part of the movie was the toothpick scene where Hoffman's character counted the spilled toothpicks in seconds.

Sullivan says Joseph has special abilities as shown in a documentary that came out in 1986 called 'Portrait of an Autistic Young Man.'

In the documentary the interviewer asks Joseph to the answer 4555 squared.  In seconds, Joseph gives him the answer, '20, 748,025.'  Says the interviewer,'You're absolutely right.'

When Joseph Sullivan was diagnosed, there was much less known about autism-- and Ruth says at the time they blamed it on the mothers.

"Everything you read, and there wasn't much.  but everything you read said mothers caused autism.  Poor mothers that hated their children.  They were cold, refrigerator mothers.  So we called ourselves the refrigerator mothers," she said.

But Ruth, the mother of seven children, knew she was a good parent and soon joined other mothers, becoming an advocate for those with autism and their families seeking services.

"We started the society for autistic children of New York State," said Sullivan.

Ruth was one of the founders of the Autism Society of America, which now has chapters all over the U.S.

In part two we more with Ruth Christ Sullivan about the progress concerning autism and the future.

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