Amid the thousands of children heading back to school this term one young boy had a longer journey than most. Toby Henderson, who is autistic, was withdrawn from school by his parents three years ago when they felt he was not benefiting from being there. They began using a technique pioneered in America to treat their son and his progress has led to him joining the reception class at a mainstream rural Northumberland school.
Toby's parents, Lesley and Jim of Widdrington, Northumberland, set up the Toby Henderson Trust to help other parents with autistic children and last year opened a specialist centre for autism at Stannington, Northumberland.
They were inspired by the work of Samahria and Barry Kaufman, who developed new techniques as they tried to help their autistic son, Raun. The technique became known as The Son-Rise Program®. Raun Kaufman went on to graduate in biomedical ethics. He recently visited Newcastle to tell other parents and health professionals his story.
In 1999, Lesley and Jim raised £10,000 to take Toby, who is now eight, to the US for a week-long course at The Autism Treatment Center of America™ run by the Kaufmans.
Lesley Henderson said, "Toby is a totally different boy now. He was totally non-verbal when we went to the US. If you look at old photographs of him, and ones taken later, you can see it is like a light has been switched on.
Now he is happier, he is relaxed and he is enjoying being in contact with others and he is enjoying playing. He is confident and relaxed in himself.
The school has been wonderful and are treating him as an individual and are going to be watching him carefully. It is going to be a long process for him but he is doing incredibly well. At the centre what we try and do is say there is hope, there is lots that can be done and it is a treatable condition."
Raun Kaufman was a mute withdrawn child with an IQ of 30 before his parents started working with him. Now he teaches at his parents' institute and travels the world spreading the message.
He said, "Hearing about how Toby has done and how he has benefited from what happened to me is very touching. The Hendersons have been walking the path my parents did in the 70s.
I was totally mute, I didn't make eye contact, I didn't like to be touched. In every way I was in my own world. My parents were told: `Focus on your two daughters, your son will be put in an institution'. They defied the prognosis of the people around them and developed their own programme over three years and at the end of that time I emerged completely free from my autism."
Children diagnosed as autistic suffer communication problems and have difficulty developing relationships with others.
They have problems with their social skills and can exhibit behavioural difficulties.
The Son-Rise Program® involves parents developing a relationship with their child which in its early stages can mean copying their actions rather than trying to stop them.
Raun Kaufman was very young when his parents started trying to work with him. He said: "When I was spinning plates around my mum, instead of taking them away she would spin plates with me. People worry they will reinforce the behaviour, but we have found when we do this, children do these things less."
The programme also focuses on parents having a positive attitude on what their children can achieve.
Some of the medical profession have shunned the Kaufmans' ideas but people like the Hendersons credit the progress of their son to this approach.