Written by Raun K. Kaufman
Reprinted from The International Autism Research Organization Newsletter, US
My Experience With Autism
It is estimated that there are 518,500 children and adults, or 1 in 110 people, affected by Autism and related disorders in the U.K. alone. Autism is the third most prevalent developmental disorder in the world. Unfortunately, most parents of children receiving such a diagnosis are told that their child’s condition is an irreversible, lifelong affliction, leaving many parents devastated, with little or no hope for their children’s future improvement or recovery. More than 25 years ago, my parents, too, had a child with this diagnosis: me.
At 18 months, I was diagnosed as severely autistic, with a tested I.Q. of less than 30. Completely mute and withdrawn from human contact, I would spend my days endlessly engaged in repetitive behaviors such as spinning plates, rocking back and forth, and flapping my hands in front of my face. I didn’t want to be touched, I never looked at other people, and I did not give the slightest response to the calls and requests of the people around me. I was “in my own world.”
My parents were told to expect no change in my development. It was explained that I would never speak, never have friends, never go to school, never learn to communicate with others in any meaningful way. My condition, it was said, was incurable, unchangeable, and “hopeless.” The professionals recommended eventual institutionalization.
With no support or help, my parents decided to make a complete departure from traditional methods of “treatment.” They designed and implemented an innovative and groundbreaking program that was both home-based and child-centered. They called it The Son-Rise Program®.
Recovery Using The Son‑Rise Program
After working with me for over three years, my parents achieved what the experts had deemed “impossible.” Their Son-Rise Program enabled me to recover completely from my autism without any trace of my former condition. I graduated with honors from high school, went on to earn a degree in Biomedical Ethics from an Ivy League university (Brown University), and then directed an educational center for school-aged children. I now lecture internationally at conferences, symposia, and universities, as well as being an author, teacher, and the Director of Global Education for The Son-Rise Program at the Autism Treatment Center of America®.
Thankfully, parents today do not have to face the lack of help and support that my parents faced, nor do they have to settle for a prognosis of hopelessness. After my recovery, my father, Barry Neil Kaufman, wrote a book relating our story entitled Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues (later the subject of an NBC television movie). In 1983, my parents founded what is now known as the Autism Treatment Center of America. This center is dedicated to helping parents and professionals caring for children with autism, PDD, autism spectrum disorders, and other related developmental challenges. At our center, located in Sheffield, Massachusetts, we teach a system of treatment and education designed to help families and caregivers enable their children to dramatically improve in all areas of learning, development, communication, and skill acquisition. We have worked with thousands of people from across the globe, and achieved results that have changed the face of autism and other developmental disorders worldwide.
Teaching The Son‑Rise Program
Currently, we offer an introductory program called The Son-Rise Program® Start-Up, which provides parents and professionals with all of the tools they need to design, implement, and maintain a child-centered Son-Rise Program. This training course is offered several times a year on our campus in Massachusetts, and we also offer international programs around the world.
The foundation of the program rests upon this idea: the children show us the way in, and then we show them the way out. In this way, we establish a mutual connection and relationship, which is the platform for all education and growth. Then, we can teach our children everything we want them to learn with exponentially greater success, speed, and ease.
Joining Our Children in Their Own World
One specific technique derived from this principle is joining. This means that when a child is doing a particular repetitive, exclusive behavior (i.e. stacking blocks, flapping hands, etc.), we do not try to stop the child from doing this. On the contrary, we do this activity with him! What we have seen over and over again with thousands of children with autism spectrum disorders is that as a result of joining, children do their repetitive behaviors less and interact more. Moreover, we find that children consistently look at and interact more with people when they are sincerely joined in their repetitive activities.
The use of a non-judgmental and optimistic attitude is crucial to effective implementation of this principle. Therefore, we never label our children’s repetitive and ritualistic behaviors as inappropriate, wrong, or bad. At the same time, we look for the possibilities, not the deficiencies, in the children we work with. By not putting limits on the future of any child, we open the door for limitless growth and progress.
A second technique is to facilitate skill acquisition by capitalizing on each child’s own motivation. In the case of children with autism spectrum disorders, traditional learning modalities will rarely be motivating. Therefore, we customize the presentation of curriculum to match the child’s highest areas of motivation. This way, we use the learning skills and interests our child already has instead of trying to “run against the wind” by teaching in a way that doesn’t work for our child.
The myth of “False Hope”
I could discuss other aspects of our program, but I’ll end on one final, all-important note. People have accused us of advocating “false hope.” It is true we can’t guarantee all children will have the same results as I had. But does that mean that parents should be discouraged from hoping for their children? Does that mean that all of these children should be given life sentences? Who decided that a life sentence was better than an open door and an outstretched hand? Hope can never be bad or wrong or inappropriate. When I was diagnosed with severe autism, my parents decided to see possibilities where others saw none, and it was this perspective that enabled my complete recovery. It is true that we cannot know in advance what any given child will accomplish, but we must not decide in advance all of the things a child will never achieve. You should never have to apologize for giving your child a chance. Hope leads to action, and without action, none of these children can be helped.
"I came to the Autism Treatment Center of America in October of 2008 where I took the position as the Intensive Coordinator. Before coming to the Autism Treatment Center of America, I worked with special children for 13 years, and upon my arrival fell in-love with the Son-Rise Program®. The modality of “Bonding through acceptance” opened my eyes to a world of love and acceptance for my own son, who has ADHD, and inspired me to want to live a happier, more loving life. I soon set the intention of doing the Son-Rise Program® Child Facilitator Training so I could share my love with children on a much deeper level. I spent six months observing and learning the Son-Rise Program, and in April of 2009 was accepted into the Son-Rise Program® Child Facilitator Training Program and in July of 2010, I became a Son-Rise Program® Child Facilitator staff member and cherished my time in the playroom as a facilitator.
I continued my training at The Autism Treatment Center of America to become a Senior Son-Rise Program® Advisor. My love of Son-Rise Program® inspired me to talk with parents who are just beginning their journey and who are continuing journey with their children using the Son-Rise Program® principals and techniques.
Through the years, I found myself wanting to help our staff grow and the organization flourish, so I have now moved into a managerial role while still working as a Senior Program Advisor. I am currently the Director of Operations and Deputy CEO of the Autism Treatment Center of America and the Option Institute and look forward to working with our staff and with parents of children on the Autism Spectrum for many years to come."
Amanda has been married for 24 years and has two amazing children, a son age 22 and daughter who is 18. Some of her favorite hobbies are hiking, reading, finding tag sales, traveling and spending time with her family.
Jeannie Reid was searching for answers to the challenges she and her family were facing. Jeannie and her husband Stuart’s son, Carson, had been diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a condition on the Autism spectrum. For Carson that meant being completely involved in obsessive behaviors and only using minimal words to identify objects, as well as frequently and completely melting down.
Soon after, Jeannie found the book, “Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues” and when she read it, she KNEW she had found what she was looking for. She began using some of the Son-Rise techniques described in the book on her own until she was able to come to The Autism Treatment Center of America for the Son-Rise Program Start-Up. As she put into practice what she learned there, Carson’s world was opening up. Today Carson is attending a Montessori school as a 'typical' student and functioning at or above typical grade level, being fully verbal and conversational, and very interested in learning about the world and interacting as much as possible with other people. He is even taking swim lessons at the local YMCA and doing great!
“It has been wonderful to get, and stay connected with other people and Son-Rise parents from all over the world. My son’s progress had already come very far, but now I truly believe we can go all the way!”
Stuart Reid then attended the Empower Yourself course and brought home a new sense of clarity, balance and personal power. He shared his new empowerment with Jeannie and she in turn gained in confidence, strength and enthusiasm. Their own relationship began to flourish anew, as well. Life-altering changes were happening for Jeannie and her family.
Jeannie journeyed again to Sheffield, this time for the Fearless course at The Option Institute to help her recognize and overcome her personal obstacles. Jeannie wanted to continue her amazing journey as she had found using the techniques she learned in The Son-Rise Program and in Fearless had absolutely changed the lives of everyone in her family.
But, because the Reids’ finances had been seriously stretched by then, their next steps were put on hold. Then an amazing event changed everything. Jeannie’s college roommate and lifelong friend decided to start a Son-Rise Program scholarship fund for people from the Cleveland area. Since then Jeannie has been able to move ahead with her courses, taking Radical Authenticity, Son-Rise Maximum Impact and Son-Rise Wide Awake ... and eventually she became a Certified Group Facilitator.
Jeannie Reid’s story is about wanting BIG and making it happen. She is about to embark on her renewed private practice as an art therapist, and plans to be a super advocate for The Son-Rise Program in her area. Her wonderful new life is a product of her persistence and belief, and of the wheels she helped set in motion for others when her friends learned of how she and her family had been impacted by The Son-Rise Program.
“I know I will be able to give back by helping others, and that will be the top of my personal mountain! Thank you to everyone who donates! You are making a big difference in the world!
Two years ago, Antonio's kindergarten teacher told us something was not quite right with our little boy. He was not socializing, he somersaulted all the time and hardly spoke at all. At the time I was working for a municipality close to Florence, Italy and basically I had nothing left after seeing to basic necessities.
In the meantime, I looked up Autism with Google and as I was also looking for happiness and personal growth, I was guided to The Option Institute, thence the Autism Treatment Center of America. I read up as much as I could and started trying to apply the “Happiness is a Choice” suggestions. I'm not quite good at it but it has helped me with attitude, and everything else that seemed trying is really different after all this.
When I decided to come for The Son-Rise Program Start-Up, I really had little or no money to pay for it. I spoke to my friends, old and new. My mother helped me, friends I thought couldn't [help] tried their very best and the scholarship did the rest.
What the scholarship did was give a HUGE boost to my fundraising. About six friends contributed the rest, at the travel agency a very kind lady who I may now call a friend helped me some more. I am overwhelmed with gratefulness. Here I am, happy to have attended the Start-Up program and looking forward to learning more and praying to God for guidance.
So the gist of the matter is, I am a happy mum who hopes to implement a wonderful relationship with her child and is riding a not so easy moment with lots of hope in her heart and THANK YOU is not enough for what I feel. I still remember William's words, “If you do what you've always done, you will get what you've always got.” Now I'm trying to do different, bit by bit, day by day. I feel the difference already.
About Antonio ... we are going on with the Italian program and I play with Antonio after school in a quiet room in the house. Knowing what the little guy is exposed to (he's always putting his fingers in his ears and he seems to have problems with too much light in his eyes), I find him very brave as he bears it tolerably. Drums a lot to digest it all.
When we went to the doctor, just weeks after starting the program at home, she told me that she found him more attentive. His attention span has increased. He is also tagging or pulling at one's arm when looking for attention. The child psychologist last Saturday reported the same thing and what's more, my son has always required that I enter the room, hence assisting in every session. Well, this time he went in along with the doctor and told me, “See you later.”
At school, his teacher who speaks English as well, read up and watched my DVD (Kyle’s Journey, Jade and “I want my little boy back”). Now she's changing, bit by bit and I do appreciate that very much. He seems to be OK with her and actually sent me away from class this morning, again telling me, “See you later.”
He is now ONE HUGE GREENLIGHT and I'm hoping to be able to really have volunteers (still looking), raise funds and settle down to business.
I am the mother of three children, all on the Autism Spectrum. Before I heard of the Son-Rise Program and the Option Institute, I was a desperate, angry and depressed person…. I was on Anti-depressants, sleeping multiple hours of the day, and for a period of time, using alcohol to run away from my pain.
Then I heard of the Son-Rise Program. I called to find out more about it and thought “this if for me!” But I could not afford it. You see raising one child with Autism is very expensive but raising three is just outrageously expensive with all the therapies and dietary interventions that we were doing.
But I was offered a full scholarship to the SRSU program. I have since attended all of the Son-Rise Programs and many of the Personal Growth programs offered by the Option Institute. Each time I have been given a scholarship and each time I go I learn more about who I am and I change for the better each and every time. Because of your most generous support, my children are recovering from Autism, I have found happiness in my life! I am no longer on anti-depressants and I have so much more energy.
YOU are the reason that my family is in recovery. It is because of YOU that my oldest son now is enjoying school. YOU are the reason my second son is speaking. YOU are the reason my daughter is no longer as rigid and controlling as she once was. Thank you does not even begin to cover how much gratitude I have for you. I thank God every day for you and I do not even know you.
Please know that you are changing lives with your donation to ATCA and the OI. It is because of you that every day people are getting the help that they need. Thank you, thank you and thank you!
With so much love,
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