What is it?
This is a child-centred programme for children (and adults) with challenges such as autism. It is a full-time, one to one programme which parents can run at home in a room which is set aside for this, along with a team of volunteers. It is based on the principle ‘to love is to be happy with’; the idea that loving your child whatever challenge they have, just as they are, fosters a non-judgemental emotional environment in which they can thrive.
In the 1970’s Barry Neil Kaufman and his wife Samahria had a little boy, their third child who, at the age of one, withdrew in to his own world. He stopped making eye contact, became limp when picked up or hugged, spent time engaged in repetitive behaviour such as clicking his fingers, spinning plates, rocking or staring at dust motes. By the time he was 18 months old his diagnosis had been confirmed. With an IQ of less than 30 it was pronounced that he was severely and incurably autistic and institutionalisation was the recommendation.
Barry Kaufman at the time worked in advertising however both he and Samahria were interested in personal growth. They made a pledge that they would find a bridge in to his world to let him know they loved him. Adopting the principle ‘to love is to be happy with’, they kept focussed on joining Raun with no element of ‘trying’ to make him other than he was already. Their bathroom was set aside so there was minimal distraction for Raun and it fell to Samahria initially to spend the majority of time with him on a one to one basis. Their idea was to really get to know Raun, to notice what he connected with, to see if they could experience the remote and silent world he inhabited. To express their love to him they joined him in his activities, not to mimic him, but to get a sense of what motivated him. So, hour by hour, Samahria rocked when Raun rocked, clicked her fingers when he did and tried to spin plates when he got absorbed by this activity.
For a brief moment, within the first two or three weeks, Raun looked Samahria directly in the eye; an extraordinary moment as he chose to connect. It was the beginning of a challenging, demanding and ultimately exhilarating journey. Encouraged they were doing something of value for their son they continued and Raun bit by bit reached out to them. By the time he was five years old he was in mainstream school, his IQ tested at near genius level, and there was no trace of autism at all.
Development of the Autism Treatment Center of America
Following the success of Raun, Barry and Samahria were approached by other parents with profoundly autistic children. Passionate about what they had experienced and achieved they discovered that as long as the major principle of ‘to love is to be happy with’ was adhered to, children could make remarkable progress. Eventually they chose to make this Son-Rise programme more widely available and leaving behind their mainstream work, established The Option Institute where The Autism Treatment Center is housed as well as the campus for adult training and growth programmes, which have all blossomed from the same loving root.
It appears there is quite a lot of controversy about the validity of the Son-Rise programme. There has not been a full evaluation, however there is a substantial number of testimonials applauding it. The BBC filmed a documentary ‘I Want My Little Boy Back’ which told the story of one British families journey to The Autism Treatment Center for two weeks and the results they achieved after running their own programme at home for the following six months. The film is a powerful testament to this child-centred and loving approach.
Benefits and Drawbacks
The benefits can be seen in countless ways. Learning such a non-judgemental approach as Son-Rise requires is a path of personal growth for all involved – parents and volunteers alike. The subsequent emotional environment coupled with the physical environment recommended allows the child to feel safe and secure, while the child-led rule gives him a sense of control. Although The Autism Treatment Center of America doesn’t guarantee results, in many cases (numbers unknown) substantial change occurs, with some children leaving behind their autism completely.
It offers families (and volunteers) an understanding and ability to shift their attitudes about their own beliefs and can transform those who participate as well as the relevant child.
The financial cost of running a Son-Rise programme can be a drawback, although there is now greater help in the UK from The (Caudwell Charity) which has created an Autism Initiative. There are week long introductory seminars available in different countries as well as Intensive Programmes at the Center itself plus the costs of setting aside a playroom and finding a group of volunteers. The emotional and physical cost can also be daunting as Son-Rise is ideally a full time programme. The one to one aspect can be challenging in itself.