"We use a child's own motivation as our doorway in. We use what they want to do not our own agenda." Raun Kaufman
The Son-Rise Program® has succeeded where medical experts have given up.
LONDON -- Looking at 26-year-old Raun Kaufman, it is impossible to believe he was diagnosed as profoundly autistic when he was barely 2.
The articulate American bears no traces of the mysterious condition that robs children of perception and traps them in their own world. But nearly a quarter-century ago, doctors advised the curly-haired toddler's parents to institutionalize their only son, saying his condition was irreversible.
"The diagnosis and the prognosis was the same across the board from different people. I was diagnosed as profoundly autistic and severely retarded. They actually gave me an IQ test, and I tested below 30," he said during a visit to London.
Affable and with a degree from an Ivy League university, he spent his early years in endless hours of repetitive behavior. It was his parents' refusal to accept his condition and their dogged determination to reach him in his own private world that Kaufman says led to his amazing recovery.
He said his parents never set out to cure him. The most they hoped for was to draw him out of his world into theirs.
Like many children with autistic spectrum disorder, he was not affectionate and would not make eye contact with people. When he looked directly at his mother while she was rocking on the floor with him, it was the groundbreaking moment that led to his recovery and the establishment of The Son-Rise Program® for treating autistic children.
"One of the main tenets of our program is that parents are the main resource for their children, but also that the child is the teacher," said Kaufman, whose father, Barry Neil Kaufman, documented his recovery in a best-selling book that was made into a TV film.
The central pillar of The Son-Rise Program® -- and The Option Institute in Massachusetts set up by Kaufman's parents to teach it -- is human interaction. Widely used in the United States, it is gaining popularity in Europe and elsewhere. Kaufman was in Britain to help train parents using it.
The cause of autism spectrum disorder, which covers a range of disabilities, is still unknown. Research suggesting a link to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and bowel disease has been disputed. A genetic component is likely.
The condition is more prevalent among boys than girls. A minority of people with the disorder, who are known as autistic savants, show remarkable artistic, musical or mathematical skills, like the Dustin Hoffman character in the film "Rain Man."
In The Son-Rise Program®, parents join their child in repetitive behavior and are encouraged to appreciate any attempts at interaction. A room devoid of clutter is used to allow child and parent to learn together without distractions.
"We use a child's own motivation as our doorway in. We use what they want to do, not our own agenda," said Kaufman. "It's really joining in with what the child is doing. Once we have established this bond through joining, then we seek to educate and help the child cross over the bridge into our world."
Kaufman is reluctant to say he is cured even though by the age of 5 he had no visible signs of being autistic. Reaction from medical experts has ranged from accepting to unbelieving.
"I've literally had parents come up to me and tell me they couldn't believe they were meeting me because they had been told by their professionals that I was in an institution," he said.
Professional reluctance to embrace the program is due, at least in part, to the lack of internationally accepted clinical trials supporting its success.
"Inevitably, the scientific world looks for hard data on these sorts of approaches and ideas and presentations, particularly long-term studies," said Mike Collins, the education adviser of Britain's National Autistic Society.
Despite a lack of scientific evidence, Rita Jordan, a senior lecturer on autism at the University of Birmingham who has completed a review of data on educational approaches for the disorder, thinks The Son Rise Program® is useful.
"Many things in its rationale fit very well with what we know about autism. … I think it is a sound program," she said.
Shara Ouston, 33, a mother of four from the Isle of Wight, has no doubts about its benefits. Both her sons are autistic. Jack, 9, completed The Son-Rise Program® a few years ago, and Toby, 4, is about halfway through.
Both have improved immensely. "Both my children were fairly high-functioning to start with, but all children are different. Sometimes you get really miraculous things happening with lower-functioning kids," she said.
Son-Rise is just one of many treatments for Autism. Lovaas is a behavioral approach developed in the United States in the 1960s. AIT (Auditory Integration Training), devised in France, works on the principle that autistic behavior results from abnormal or painful hearing problems.
Ouston acknowledges Son-Rise may not be right for every autistic child, but she has no hesitations in recommending it.
"I know from my own experience that it works. How it works I don't know for sure. I think it has to do with love. Love creates miracles and is healing at the end of the day."