Parents Given Hope...

By Lyndee Yamshon

It is one of the medical world's most mysterious disorders, but Raun Kaufman is living proof that those stricken with autism can recover.

At the age of 18 months, Kaufman, 28, was diagnosed with the developmental disorder that affects some 400,000 families in the US alone.

Yet today, Raun is completely recovered and, as part of the April Autism Awareness Month campaign, he is touring the country telling his story. It is a story that has already received much attention after Raun's father, Barry, wrote a book "Son-Rise, The Miracle Continues" tracking his son's recovery. In 1979, the book was made into an NBC television-movie and hundreds of families began contacting the Kaufman's, until the family created The Son-Rise Program® to help others dealing with the disorder.

When Raun was just 18 months, several doctors told his family that his condition was for life and recommended he be institutionalized.

"People felt sorry for my family," Raun said in an interview with Town & Village this week. "I was doing bizarre obsessive behaviors that other kids just did not do. But my parents decided to adopt a new attitude about me - coming from a place of acceptance of where I was - with a hope for the future they believed in possibilities for me."

NEW HOPE - for Thomas Bracco and his family.

Raun said that his parents began observing his every move by taking notes and pictures and following his habits. Eventually, the family began to work with him in a small bathroom, removing all distractions from the room except for a few toys high on shelves.

"This way," said Raun, "by removing distractions where my parents could only say yes, they became the center of my universe. I used to spin plates all day long, and when my mother joined me in the activity, she said I looked at her for the first time."

The family created The Son-Rise Program® located at the Autism Treatment Center of America™ in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Based on full acceptance and a joining mentality in dealing with autism a disorder that can impair communication, social interaction, sensory skills and spontaneous and imaginative play and general behaviors the program offers a three-pan educational series for parents who are willing to join the world of their autistic child.

The Son-Rise Program® Start-Up is a week-long course during which parents learn basic teaching tools to bring back to their homes; The Son-Rise Program® Maximum Impact, a more detailed course teaching parents a nurturing attitude to instill in the home; and the The Son-Rise Program® Intensive, which provides the child with one-on-one sessions with therapists and teachers eight hours a day, and further parental training.

"If I had to sum up The Son-Rise Program® in a sentence," said Raun, "the children show us the way in and we show them the way out."

Dr Philip and Deborah of New York took part in the initial The Son-Rise Program® Start-Up with their eight-year-old son Thomas.

"A friend of ours suggested we pick up the book, and I became fascinated with the loving techniques of how to treat an autistic child," said Deborah. "That friend of ours lived next door to Raun's grandparents and recalled that Ron had severe problems as a child My friend noted Raun's recovery to me.

"I thought that the Son-Rise technique of acceptance and support would be the only way to reach our According to the Braccos, Thomas was in his own world and, before taking part in the program, seemed perfectly happy to remain that way.

"I don't think he knew we were around, except when he got his basic needs met," said Deborah. "He never made eye contact, he would stare at cracks in the walls, he never spoke and most of all, he didn't show any emotion.

"As strange as it seemed, we used to fake heart-attacks and he would step right over us."

Today, the couple say that Thomas asks for what he needs and will even say, 'I love you.' Although obsessive-compulsive traits such as shaking or making noises - still surface, the parents believe their son is "70 percent better."

Philip said The Son-Rise Program® Start-Up made the couple more aware of different ways to help themselves with a new attitude of love and acceptance.

"I don't think I really understood what my son had until I came home and started the program with him," said Philip. "I would work with Thomas for two hours and Debbie would do another two in his bedroom. Then we found four or five volunteers who we taught the program so they can provide back up help, giving Thomas up to 10 hours of help a day."

The first change Deborah noticed in her son was his attempt at communication. He tried to talk, looked at her more often, touched her face and "just seemed to connect. I felt like I was reaching him for the first time," she said.

Thomas' father said the goal remains to get Thomas in a school environment but, at this point, he feels his needs won't be fully met.

"The school curriculum is based on teaching colors and numbers, which is acceptable for a normal child. But making connections is what Thomas needs - he's very smart and can learn all the other things."

The Braccos say that their son is improving every day and The Son-Rise Program® has allowed them to begin to live a normal life.

"We never went on vacations or even went to restaurants because Thomas would get over-stimulated by noise. Four years later, we can go anywhere with him. People don't even realize he's different. He'll crack jokes and laugh," said Philip.

Thomas has two twin bothers and volunteers who play with him on a daily basis. Deborah spends all day with her son. While she admitted that it can be difficult, she said, "Life is easier than it was, because Thomas can communicate.

"Before he used to just cry and moan and I never knew what he wanted. Now he tells me verbally found four or five volunteers who we taught the program so they can provide back up help, giving Thomas up to 10 hours of help a day."

The first change Deborah noticed in her son was his attempt at communication. He tried to talk, looked at her more often, touched her face and "just seemed to connect. I felt like I was reaching him for the first time," she said.

Thomas' father said the goal remains to get Thomas in a school environment but, at this point, he feels his needs won't be fully met.

"The school curriculum is based on teaching colors and numbers, which is acceptable for a normal child. But making connections is what Thomas needs - he's very smart and can learn all the other things."

The Braccos say that their son is improving every day and The Son-Rise Program® has allowed them to begin to live a normal life.

"We never went on vacations or even went to restaurants because Thomas would get over-stimulated by noise. Four years later, we can go anywhere with him. People don't even realize he's different. He'll crack jokes and laugh," said Philip.

Thomas has two twin bothers and volunteers who play with him on a daily basis. Deborah spends all day with her son. While she admitted that it can be difficult, she said, "Life is easier than it was, because Thomas can communicate.

"Before he used to just cry and moan and I never knew what he wanted. Now he tells me verbally what he wants - to go for a ride in the car, to eat salad. He's even learned how to be fresh with me. Sometimes when I tell him to pick up his toys, he'll respond, 'no, no.

Philip said that because of the Son-Rise philosophy of acceptance without judgment, it's allowed their world to be better"

"If everyone had that attitude, I think the world would be a better place," he said.

Through The Son-Rise Program®, the Bracco's have learned to incorporate Thomas and their twin boys into their lives, and most of all, they have found happiness.

"One day a parent of another autistic boy in my twin's class came up to me and thanked me," recalled Deborah. "She said my boys were the only kids who interacted and played with him. I think that's because we instituted love and acceptance in our home and it's coming out in their personalities."

Meanwhile, Raun plans to continue spreading his message of hope throughout Autism Awareness Month with a nationwide speaking tour which included a date at New York University this week.

He said, "People have accused me of advocating false hope, but hope can never be bad or wrong or inappropriate.

"Hope leads to action and, without action, none of these children can be helped."

If you would like to find out more about The Son-Rise Program, call 1-877-SONRISE .