All developmental therapies for autism focus on creating or improving relationships between parents and child. The Son-Rise Program, designed by Barry and Samahria Kaufman, attempts to overcome developmental difficulties through a spiritual approach. Utilizing the power of unconditional love and eliminating judgmental attitudes, the Kaufmans reached out to their autistic son by joining him in his stimming behaviors. While DIR/Floortime employs a similar technique, once there, Son-Rise teaches parents to wait patiently until the child initiates interaction.
The Son-Rise Program’s Philosophy and Beginnings
The Son-Rise Program is a child-centered therapy for autism that uses a compassionate, non-invasive model. Their philosophy comes from eastern spiritual principles and attempts to show parents how changing their attitude about autism, their child, and what is possible has a direct bearing on the outcome. At the program’s center is the belief that value doesn’t depend on results, but on how a parent greets their situation and child.
Sparked by the negative attitude, hopelessness, and autism’s irreversible nature expressed by those who diagnosed her child, Samahria Kaufman set out to prove them wrong. Letting her spiritual beliefs guide her actions, she sat on the bathroom floor for hours – the least sensory-upsetting room in the house – imitating her son’s repetitive behaviors. She felt that her presence would show him she accepted him unconditionally, that she valued him enough to imitate him, and that she cared.
Placing hope at the heart of the program, the Kaufmans chose to focus on their son’s talents and strengths, rather than his deficits. They decided to be happy with their current situation and embraced their son’s individuality by placing no conditions or expectations on his behavior or growth. In addition, they allowed their new-found non-judgmental attitude to guide all of their actions. Acceptance and approval colored their every thought.
By imitating her child’s repetitive actions and activities, Samahria gained relevant insight into the meditative state her son’s activities created. She learned what he received from stimming – it was soothing, peaceful, and gave him a sense of well-being – and she was able to reach out to him by reinforcing any type of contact he made. In essence, she allowed her son to provide the roadmap to his own recovery.
What is the Son-Rise Program?
In 1974, Barry and Samahria Kaufman created the Autism Treatment Center of America to share what they had learned. The Son-Rise Program utilizes the techniques and activities that resulted in their son achieving a total recovery from autism. It is both a treatment and an education model that divides into three main parts:
Total acceptance and approval: Son-Rise teaches parents to rid themselves of their judgmental attitudes. Parents allow unconditional love, happiness, and total approval of the child’s current and future activities to influence every approach, attempted contact, and movement they make.
Motivational and/or therapeutic experience: Son-Rise teaches that the key to interaction lies in motivation. The child must feel it is worth the effort to leave his ritualized universe. Interacting is physically, mentally, and emotionally difficult for autistic children. Parents seek out what will excite their child and entice him to unlock his desire to be with others. Part of that search includes remaining enthusiastic and supportive of even the small gains.
A simplified teaching program: To overcome the roadblock of entering a world that is incomprehensible to the autistic child, every activity or event must be broken down into small pieces the child can understand. Similar to the steps used to teach life skills and social skills, but smaller. The Son-Rise Program uses the child’s desire to learn as the motivation to help him achieve his full potential. The development path depends on the child’s willingness to participate in the experiences offered to him.
By combining strategy, support, and education, the entire family reaches out to the autistic child. This occurs through playing imitation games like Simon Says, slowly introducing sensory-rich toys, or providing simple training for things the child is interested in doing, but doesn’t do well. For example, if the child is fond of puzzles but struggles to insert puzzle pieces correctly, parents break down the activity into smaller steps:
- Pick up the puzzle piece.
- Take the piece to the puzzle board without dropping it.
- Find the place on the puzzle where the piece goes.
- Spin the piece so it’s facing the right way.
- Place the piece on the right spot.
- Snap the puzzle piece into place.
Depending on the child’s capabilities, parents can either teach the steps individually and then put them together as a unit, later on, or teach them in order as a sequence. Mini-steps allow even low-functioning autistic children to enjoy the learning process. However, a child’s full potential might be less than a total recovery. Son-Rise teaches parents how to improve their child’s development so he can achieve a quality of life that surpasses what may have been predicted for him.
The Role of Sensory Dysfunction
In the Kaufmans’ opinion, sensory dysfunction is responsible for autism. They suspect these sensory issues cause the brain to short-circuit and the child enters into an altered state of consciousness – resulting in changed patterns of thinking. Since autism deficits are a result of the way the brain is processing perceptions and utilizing memory, they feel it is uncompassionate to force autistic children to try to understand a world outside of their own.
Unlike other developmental or behavioral autism treatments, parents don’t push or pull; they just make contact in a distraction-free environment and then take advantage of teaching moments as they arise. Since Son-Rise refuses to place limits on autistic children, the program empowers the autistic child to take the initiative to interact with those around him.
Son-Rise Program Controversies
The Son-Rise Program places parents in the role of teacher and therapist, using the home rather than a clinic or play therapy room. However, the Kaufmans also believe love and respect impact a child’s motivation to learn more than anything else does. The idea of placing happiness in a prominent position, accepting one’s current situation without judgment or negativity, and referring to the first interactive contact between parent and child as a birth, or rebirth, has sparked a lot of controversy; namely, ignoring the realities of autism and giving false hope.
Total acceptance of a child’s coping methods rather than focusing on deficits doesn’t wipe out hope. Hope is an important form of motivation that keeps parents of autistic children from giving up. Hope drives parents to seek out different treatment methods until they find the combination that works best for their child. In addition, refusing to look at autism as a deficiency or something that can never be cured, doesn’t ignore neurological problems. When parents place limits on the brain’s capacity to find ways to adapt, they interfere with any possible physical recovery.
Through observation, getting to know the child completely, and zeroing in on his likes and interests, parents can find ways to entice interaction without being intrusive. The Son-Rise Program asks parents to stop forcing their autistic child to go where they believe he should, and provide an environment for him where he can feel comfortable and loved just as he is. The results that can come from that type of environment are often miraculous. While no single therapy program works for every autistic child, all children deserve to be in a happy, loving, and caring environment.
- 1. Autism Treatment Center of America: The Son-Rise Program. Web. 12 Oct. 2011.<http://www.autismtreatmentcenter.org>.
2. Chantal Sicile-Kira. Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and other ASDs. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Group, 2004. Print.
3. Kaufman, Barry Neil and Raun Kaufman. Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues. Tibruon, CA: HJ Kramer, 1994. Print.
4. Robledo, Jhoanna and Dawn Ham-Kucharski. The Autism Book: Answers to Your Most Pressing Questions. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2005. Print.