A week or so ago I had the pleasure of listening to a lecture by Raun Kaufman at the National Autism Association Conference in New Orleans. Raun is probably the best speaker I have ever heard and the Director of Global Education for the Autism Treatment Center of America. Although one hour would never do justice to the subject, Raun wanted to summarize some of the key educational and behavioral aims of the Son-Rise Program.
Raun started his lecture by describing a little boy diagnosed with autism. Despite a severe deficit (IQ below 30) and the poor prognosis offered by physicians his family hung tenacious by his side and instituted their own approach in order to “bringing him back”. In the long run with plenty of love and patience their son made a full recovery and graduated from an Ivy League University with a major on Biomedical Ethics. The little child in the story was Raun, and I can serve as witness that he made a complete recovery. His life was made into a NBC television movie. Raun himself has been interviewed by NPR, BBC, Fox News, and People magazine.
The Son-Rise program (play on words with sunrise) was the name given by Raun’s parents to the series of practical strategies they developed to bring him back to their lives. These strategies allowed Raun to develop communication skills and meaningful/caring relations that allowed him to succeed in the world. It is curious to consider what would have been the name of the program if the child in question had been a girl, maybe Moon-Rise program?
Training for the Son-Rise program is given at the Autism Treatment Center. Initially it consists of a 5-day course for parents only. There they learn the tools and take them back to their homes for implementation. The program relies heavily on attempt to enter the child’s world. As Raun said, “The child shows us the way in and then we show them the way out”. It calls for the parents to join their child in their stereotypical behaviors and in their special interests. By building a relationship around a common interest you establish trust and the beginning of a social relationship. Raun illustrated the “joining” process and gave step by step rules on how to achieve the same:
- Don’t stare at your child.
- Don’t get in your child’ face.
- Don’t take your child’s stuff.
- Most important: Don’t try to change your child’s behavior in any way.
The Son-Rise program uses motivation instead of rewards. According to Raun, the robotic behavior observed in some children is the result of training by reward. Furthermore, rewards may stimulate your child to hate what he is being asked to learn. The Son-Rise program also emphasizes to learn social behaviors before anything else. Although academics (learning the name of colors or being able to add and subtract) are important, they are the low hanging fruit that many parents aim for. Such gains are irrelevant to your child’s ability to connect with others around him.
I am sure that there are many other fundamentals to the Son-Rise program, but they were difficult to convey in a one-hour lecture. For those looking for more information about the Son-Rise program Raun has written a best-selling book entitled Autism Breakthrough. I have known of a few children from the Son-Rise program that have behavioral problem because they seemed to have been spoiled and were used to getting their way with anything. Maybe this is something to watch for and discuss with the instructors of the method. Otherwise I was highly impressed by the gains observed in some patients and the overall message of inspiration, empowerment and hope provided by the Son-Rise program.