A few weeks ago I flew over to Melbourne in Australia to stay for 4 days with friends who are running a Son-Rise program there with their son who is nearly 7 years old now. I’d had the invite more than a year ago when I met his Mum and three of their volunteers while on the Exceptional Woman course at the Option Institute. I wanted to see with my own eyes what it’s like running a real Son-Rise program, and with a local Australian family, ie a culture very similar to ours in New Zealand.
They started their SR program 3 years ago, after they had a chance encounter with the mother of a little autistic girl in Sydney who’d been in a SR program. Since then a number of other families in Melbourne, seeing their progress, have also started running SR programs for their autistic children. I’ve heard about two children in Australia so far who have had a complete recovery from autism/aspergers via SR. The original Sydney lass, and a little boy in Byron Bay. I believe there might be a couple of others as well, plus a number of other Aussie children who have seen massive improvements but not gone all the way to complete recovery.
My friend’s little boy is not all the way out of his autism yet, but he’s come such a long way. I want to share his story with you.
When they started Son-Rise, he was nearly four, and had two formal diagnoses, one of “mild autism” and one of “moderate autism”. He had very little language, no toilet training, and virtually zero eye contact. When his mum would go into the playroom with him, they would go through a two hour session without his giving her a single look or glance. He would pull away whenever anyone came near him or touched him.
After returning from Son-Rise Startup, after only one week (!) this little boy was toilet trained, and in the three years since has NEVER had an accident (except for one time when he couldn’t get the buttons undone – he has difficulty with fine motor control).
Now after three years of SR, I saw him run up to his mother, hug her, and say “I love you mum”. He would come up to me, and say “Lisa, Lisa please come play soccer with me”. He took me around the backyard to show me his playhouse. He loves to be touched, hugged, to hold hands and dance, and he has easy eye contact much of the time, ie when he remembers and feels safe. He loves to meet people, including strangers. We visited a play park to ride on model trains, and his Dad commented how much he had changed and loved the trip and was open to suggestions and guidance compared with his last visit some months earlier. He loves his playroom and his parents and volunteers.
He’s not all the way out of his autism/aspergers yet. He still has exclusive behaviors. He loves maps and place names and has a delightful obsession with Armenia. In the playroom with this little boy, I learned all about obscure Middle Eastern countries like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan while drawing maps with him. I found a sweet opportunity to role play with him when he asked me what “disputed” means. We acted out a fun dispute, each giving our reasons why the offending “disputed territory” was ours. His parents are actively role playing with him as a way to help him learn to feel comfortable around folks who might not be as accepting and loving as they are with him.
This little boy is now reading and writing at or above his age level, despite the program being 100% focusing on socialization, with academic learning being peripheral via the lad’s own interests. They run the SR program 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and mornings on weekends. (Though they live the SR attitude all the time in their home.) They have volunteers afternoons weekdays, and the father doesn’t work Mondays (he does the weekend sessions and ½ day Monday). This little boy is effectively home-schooled through SR, and like many homeschooled children, is progressing really well with the one-on-one attention and help. His parents are planning to send him to a regular school when he asks for it. They and the SR teachers feel that this is likely to happen in the next 12 to 18 months if his progress continues the way it has this year.
I feel there are such strong indicators that this little boy will come all the way out of his autism. He’s come such a long way in three years, and is welcoming and wanting to learn more. He has one foot in the autistic world, and one in the non-autistic world now. It’s a matter of time and encouragement, giving him the space to learn and change, but not demand it of him, and of making it so exciting and fun that he wants it himself, from his own motivation. This is how Son-Rise works!
One more comment before I go. These folks also have a 4 year old boy, who is not on the autism spectrum. The younger lad is generally happy, and very accepting of his older brother. These two kids played together amazingly well, much more amicably even than non-autistic children usually do. This little boy gets his cues from his parents, and is accepting of his brother, even when the older lad wants or insists that games are played his way. In four days with this family, I never even once saw the kids fight! This is a clear example of SR “attitude” working awesomely for the whole family. It’s a great way to parent even if you don’t have special needs children.
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