The Son-Rise Program Vs. ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis)

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The Son-Rise Program Vs. ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis)

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The Son-Rise Program and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of autism treatment methodologies. The major differences between the philosophies, principles, and techniques of these two treatment modalities can be broken down into the following seven categories:

Understanding of Autism

ABA treats Autism as a behavioral disorder, with behaviors to be either extinguished or promoted. This means that repetitive, exclusive, so-called “stimming” behaviors common to children with Autism is not permitted during learning sessions, “correct” behaviors are rewarded, sometimes with food, and new skills/behaviors are taught through structured repetition referred to as discreet trials. The Son-Rise Program sees autism as a relational, interactivity disorder. The central deficit of children on the autism spectrum is that they have difficulty connecting with and relating to other people. Almost all other difficulties spring from this primary challenge. Therefore, we do not seek to “correct” so-called “inappropriate” behaviors in the absence of a deeply bonded relationship. Rather, we endeavor to build a relationship with each child – a relationship that is the platform for all future education and development. We then help our children learn to connect and build relationships with others, and to genuinely enjoy such interaction. The many other skills we teach (self-care skills, moving beyond “stimming” behaviors) are addressed within the context of our focus on human interaction. We also believe that each child has a reason for every behavior they perform. Rather than forcing children to conform to a world they do not yet understand, we enter their world first. We seek to understand so that we can be most effective in helping the child. In The Son-Rise Program, the children show us the way in, and then we show them the way out.

Area of Focus

The focal points of each program are based upon how we see autism (discussed above). In simple terms, ABA focuses on changing behavior, The Son-Rise Program focuses on creating a relationship. An ABA facilitator might punish, reprimand, or attempt to discourage a repetitive or aggressive behavior. Compliance is seen as very important. Of course, there are a range of ABA-type programs and facilitators out there, some using strong punishments of behaviors, and others using much gentler forms of discouragement, but the overall focus is the same: behavior change and compliance with the requests of the facilitator. New behaviors and skills are often taught using a system based upon repetition and rewards called discreet trials, which will be discussed in more detail below. In The Son-Rise Program, we consistently seek to built rapport and relationships with our children. One critical way in which we do this is called joining. Instead of prohibiting or discouraging repetitive, “autistic” behavior, we actually participate in these activities with the child. Far from reinforcing “autistic” behaviors (a concern voiced by some), we have seen, with thousands of children from around the world, the exact opposite. When children are joined, they tend to look at us more, pay more attention to us, and include us more in their activity. We see such children “stimming” less, and interacting more. After all, we are building a stronger and stronger bond with the child, and, at the same time, by showing genuine interest and participation in what is important to the child, we are actually teaching the very interpersonal skills that many of our children lack. When we have the child’s willing engagement, we then use a variety of motivational and educational techniques (discussed in brief below) to promote learning and skill acquisition.

Repetition vs. Motivation

With ABA, when attempting to teach a particular behavior or skill (such as getting dressed, to use a simple example), discreet trials are often used. With this methodology, a child might be told (or made) to sit in a chair. The facilitator would then say “coat on” and endeavor to train the child to put his/her coat on but doing this over and over again until the child has “mastered” the skill. Each time the child gets it right, they would get praise, a piece of food, or some other reward. While this approach can definitely succeed at getting some children to perform particular activities or skills, a common complaint we hear from parents is that, although their children perform the prescribed activity, they tend to do so in a manner that appear robotic and pre-programmed, rather than displaying any kind of spontaneity or enthusiasm. A second difficulty that we see is that many children, after participating in this program over a period of time, become aggressive and rebellious. In The Son-Rise Program, we want each child to “come back for more.” This means that we want the child’s willing engagement over time, so that we can teach them all that they need to learn, and so that they value and enjoy interaction. We also see the importance of children being able to generalize learned skills to other areas, so that they don’t need prompts, rewards, or our presence to act on what they’ve learned. Therefore, we do not want to continually repeat commands when the child, in all likelihood, does not understand why he/she is being asked to do this. Consistently, we have found that motivation works faster, more powerfully, and promotes greater generalization than repetition does. If a child likes Thomas the Tank Engine, or physical movement, or numbers, then we use this motivation as a teaching tool by combining it with an educational goal. For instance, if a child likes Thomas the Tank Engine, and one of our educational goals is toilet training, we would construct a game that centered around Thomas and involved using the toilet. In this way, we create a desire to learn and use a skill (going to the toilet), and we keep the interaction with the child alive and well (and fun). An additional benefit of this approach is that it does not tend to produce a robotic, pre-programmed response because children get genuinely excited about the learning process. For this reason (as well as because of the joining described above and the attitudinal component described below), we also do not see children becoming aggressive or rebellious from participating in The Son-Rise Program.

Structure vs. Spontaneity

In ABA, a high premium is placed upon structure. It is important for children to sit still in a seat, and to perform activities in a prescribed, regulated fashion. The thought behind this is that children on the autism spectrum need this kind of structure. Also, if they are to ever participate in school, they must learn to sit appropriately, to obey a schedule, and to comply with requests from the teacher. In The Son-Rise Program, we see it differently. If children are to be successful in school and in life, what is most important for them to learn is to interact with others, make their own decisions, and to be flexible (something with which many children with autism have difficulty). Because of this, we spend our time engaging in interactive games (when we aren’t joining, as stated above). In addition to teaching interaction and socialization, these games challenge children to be more flexible (rather than needing things to go a particular way) and to use their imagination to come up with different ideas and directions on the fly. We also keep the games fun, so that our children see that participating in our world (vs. staying in their own) is both enjoyable and useful, rather than rigid and demanding.

Academic vs. Social Development

ABA practitioners tend to focus heavily on academic skills such as reading, writing, and math (in addition to verbal communication and basic “appropriate” behavior). We in The Son-Rise Program would certainly agree that such skills are important. However, if choosing between helping a child to be great at math and or to be great at making friends, we choose the latter every time. In actual fact, academic and social skills are not mutually exclusive, and there are many instances where we do teach reading, writing, and math. When we do, though, it is always in the context of an activity that teaches socialization first. If our children can learn to enjoy people, make friends, laugh at a funny joke, socialize, etc. (which many of our children do), then they have achieved what, for most of us, makes life most meaningful.

The Role of the Parents

ABA has many dedicated practitioners, many of whom often work with children in their own homes. The way the programs generally work, though, is that parents tend to be in a more observational role in their programs. The professionals are seen, in most cases, as the major players in the program, with parents watching on the side so that the practitioners can do their jobs. We in The Son-Rise Program have seen nothing that matches the motivation, love, dedication, and lifelong commitment possessed by parents for their special children. Furthermore, no one has the kind of long-term, day-to-day experience with their own particular child that parents possess. Without question, professionals and other family members can be critically important. At the same time, because of their unique position in their child’s world, parents can positively affect their child’s life in a way no one else can. Therefore, not only do we acknowledge parents as the child’s most important resource, but we seek to empower them to the child’s advantage. This is why we teach them how to design, implement, and take a central role in their children’s programs.

The Role of the Facilitators’ Attitude

ABA focuses heavily on what the facilitator does. The Son-Rise Program not only focuses on what the facilitator does, but also on how the facilitator does what he/she does. We address and provide training in an area that we see as the most overlooked factor of autism treatment: the attitude of the facilitator. We see a non-judgmental and optimistic attitude as crucial to effective child facilitation. What does this mean? First, it means that we don’t label our children’s repetitive and ritualistic behaviors as inappropriate, wrong, or bad. This principle is every bit as practical as it is idealistic. We see time and again that children with autism tend to move away from people they perceive as uncomfortable or judging and toward people they see as comfortable, easy, fun, safe, and non-judgmental. Thus, we can use our attitude to become an interaction magnet. As well, having a sincere sense of optimism – really believing in the child with which one is working – is key to helping that child to break through barriers that previously seemed insurmountable. We do not put limits on any child ahead of time, we do not believe that hope can ever be “false,” and we believe in the potential of every child, regardless of age or diagnosis. Moreover, we believe in the parents who work tirelessly to reach their children. That is why we spend a significant percentage of our time and effort providing parents with attitudinal training. We help them to create and sustain a non-judgmental, optimistic, and hopeful attitude with their children. In this way, they can maximize their children’s progress while finding peace with their children’s diagnosis.  

NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration



NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration

Pre-Requisites for this course are:

  • Your child is 7 years or older.
  • Your child uses sentences, asks and answers questions and might even be able to have back and forth conversations with other people.
  • You have completed one of the following: The Son-Rise Program Start-Up, The Son-Rise Program Online Course, or you have done Son-Rise Program Consultations.


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration



NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course. Please note, this is a per-person registration

Please make sure you understand the following pre-requisites for this course before registering.

Pre-requisites for this course are:

  • Your child is currently using babbling sounds or unclear words, or
  • Your child has a vocabulary of less than 20 words and is not yet speaking in phrases.


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.
Please note, this is a per-person registration

Please make sure you understand the following pre-requisites for this course before registering.

Pre-requisites for this course are:

  • For parents or care-givers who have attended The Start-Up course or who have done The Son-Rise Program Online course.
  • For families who have already started running a Son-Rise Program for their children.


Amanda Louison

  • Director of Operations
  • Deputy CEO
  • Senior Son-Rise Program Advisor
  • Former Son-Rise Program Child Facilitator

Personal Statement

"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."

Fun Facts:

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.

Dear Donor,

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!”

Jeannie wrote.

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!

Jeannie Reid


Dear Donor

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.

God bless,



Dear Donor,

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,

Kerry Rihtar


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