Reaching Autistic Children with Healing Methods

by Raun K. Kaufman

As the prevalence of autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) continues to rise, the question of how to reach an unreachable child becomes ever more urgent. Parents want so much to help their child, and yet it's easy to feel a bit lost as to how best accomplish this. How do we help a child who often doesn't appear to want the help we offer? And can this be done naturally?

The Autism Treatment Center of America believes that there's a way to enable children with autism spectrum disorders to make large, sometimes dramatic strides with a method that is both natural and effective. The Son Rise Program can have a profound impact on the development, communication and skill acquisition of children diagnosed with autism or PDD.

This is not surprising, given the unique history of The Son-Rise Program and its founders. Barry Neil Kaufman and his wife, Samahria, developed The Son-Rise Program when I, Raun K. Kaufman, was diagnosed as severely and incurably autistic. They created a ground-breaking program which transformed me from a mute, withdrawn child with a tested I.Q. of less than 30 into a highly verbal, socially interactive boy with a near-genius I.Q. Bearing no traces of my former condition, I went on to graduate from Brown University with a degree in Biomedical Ethics and now lecture publicly and work with families worldwide using The Son-Rise Program. ";Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues," a book by my father, Barry Neil Kaufman, was a best selling book documenting my story and was later made into in an award winning NBC television movie.

In 1983, Barry Neil Kaufman and his wife Samahria, founded what is now known as the Autism Treatment Center of America, a division of The Option Institute (a non-profit, charitable organization) located in Sheffield, Massachusetts dedicated to helping parents and professionals who care for children with autism spectrum disorders.

The foundation of the program rests upon the idea that the children show us the way in, and then we show them the way out. This means that rather than forcing children to conform to a world that they don't understand, we begin by joining them in their own world first before asking them to join us in ours. In this way, we establish a mutual connection and relationship a critical prerequisite to productively teaching our children. Instead of stopping a child's repetitive behaviors, we join them because as research is beginning to show, these behaviors often serve a physiological purpose, as well. When we show our acceptance of and even interest in, what they are doing, we can then establish a critical bond around this common interest. This is so important, because it is repeatedly found that children begin to display an interest in us when we have an abiding interest in them.

Of critical importance is the child's work/play environment. By creating an environment free from distractions and control issues, we can optimize learning and interaction. This is done by constructing a one-to-one work/playroom, where the focus is on interaction above all else. The work/playroom is cleared of the obstacles that specifically hinder the learning and attention of children with autism and PDD, who are often highly over-stimulated by their environment.

In this special room, you give the child a great deal of control. It is precisely this control which enables the child to begin to feel free to step beyond the boundaries of his or her own world and begin to connect with others. Attitude is often overlooked when it comes to the treatment of children with autism, or any other special needs, for that matter. A non-judgmental and optimistic attitude is crucial to effective implementation of any of the previous principles. This means not labeling our children's repetitive or unusual behaviors as inappropriate, wrong, or bad. Although we may at first be tempted to see this attitudinal shift as difficult, this principle is every bit as practical and pragmatic as it is idealistic. It has been shown 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.

In fact, by combining this non-judgmental attitude with an attitude of optimism and hope, we can lift our children to new heights. When I was diagnosed with autism, my parents decided to see possibilities where others saw none, and it was this perspective that enabled my complete recovery. At the Autism Treatment Center of America, they believe that when we don't put limits on our children's future, we open the door for limitless growth and progress. And that truly is a door no parent ever wants to close.

Raun K. Kaufman is Director of Global Outreach for the Autism Treatment Center of America. For more information, or to set up a free 25 minute consultation with a program counselor, please call 1 877-SON-RISE or visit www.son-rise.org.