The Son-Rise Program Autism Treatment
The Son-Rise Program was developed in the early 1970’s by two parents attempting to reach their severely autistic son. Through their love, dedication and sincere appreciation of their son, they created a new understanding of Autism and a powerful method of inspiring children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to learn and grow. The Son-Rise Program uses a child-centered approach. The treatment begins with the parent or professional firstly developing a deep understanding and appreciation of the child, how s/he behaves, interacts, and communicates, and in what s/he is interested.
The Son-Rise Program describes this as “going into the child’s world”, a philosophy that is vastly different from most other approaches. Other approaches tend to start with the premise that “something is wrong with this child” and attempt to “fix” him or her. The Son-Rise Program instead starts from the premise that “this child is wonderful and unique” and asks “how can I understand him/her and relate to him/her better?” The Son-Rise Program recognizes that ASD is a challenge in social interaction (see The Son-Rise Program – Supportive Research
Due to the way the ASD brain develops, people with ASD find it incredibly challenging from an early age to interact with other people. They then avoid social interaction and so are deprived of all the learning that typical children gain from interacting with people (e.g. learning language, the art of conversation, play, imagination, creativity and the subtleties of human relationships). Thus The Son-Rise Program starts by creating a style of interaction (and a wider physical and social environment) that makes social interaction motivating to children with ASD. (see Program Principles
Once a child is motivated to interact with an adult, the adult can then create interactions that help the child to learn all the key developmental steps s/he may have missed out on (e.g. eye contact, speech, conversation, creative play, etc.). The Son-Rise Program trains parents how to create these types of interactions with their children so they do not need to rely on the input of professionals and can help their child throughout all their interactions together.
A fundamental tenet of The Son-Rise Program treatment is that the brain is plastic. That is, that the brain can change in structure and function in response to changes in the environment and sensory input. When The Son-Rise Program began in the 1970’s, this was not recognized by most neuroscientists and doctors. The wide-spread belief at the time was that a child’s brain is only plastic during the first few years of life and after 3 or 4 years, neurological growth stopped and the brain was set like concrete. Over the past 10 years, there has been a slew of research that has turned this idea on its head and paints a picture of the brain as plastic throughout the life-span.
Researchers at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and Mount Siani School of Medicine recently published a study in the General Archives of Psychiatry that used modern brain imaging technology. They trained children with ASD to pay more attention to social cues (faces and voice) and saw that the brain regions that were previously under-activated in response to these cues began to show normal levels of activation after the training (Wang, Lee, Sigman and Dapretto, 2007). That is, the brains of these children changed in response to their changed environment.
Relationship Based Approach
The Son-Rise Program is referred to as a relationship-based approach to Autism treatment. This is because it’s based the premise that all of a child’s basic learning takes place within the context of a safe, fun, social relationship. More recent treatment approaches that have been developed have tended to be more relationship-based than previous approaches. For example, Floortime (Greenspan and Weider, 1998), Relationship Development Intervention (Gutstein, 2000) and SCERTS (Prizant et al. 2003) are all relationship-based interventions. There are some very important fundamental differences in these approaches from The Son-Rise Program (see Floortime and The Son-Rise Program
for a further discussion).
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