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Mum's Joy As Miracle Treatment Transforms Danielle And Shaun

Reprinted from The Sunday Mail, England

DANIELLE and Shaun McLernon cuddle up, giggling, as they pose for our picture. "See those smiles," says mum Sue, "Those are miracles."

Incredibly, a little over three years ago, Danielle and Shaun were living in their own autistic world, completely unresponsive to those around them.

Now Danielle, 10, takes classes in a mainstream school and even attends Brownies - unheard of for a child who once could not interact with other children.

In fact, to look at her, no one would suspect there was anything wrong with this vibrant young girl.

Shaun, 13, whose concentration span was once zero, enjoys doing 200-piece jigsaws and listening to CDs like any other teenage boy.

Their progress is thanks to Son-Rise, a programme developed in America by the parents of an autistic child who were told he had no hope of a normal life.

That boy, Raun Kaufman, is now 29 and a graduate of biomedical ethics at an Ivy League university. He is coming to Scotland this week to deliver a lecture on the treatment which transformed his life.

His parents came up with a series of exercises in stimulation that began with copying his repetitive behaviour, such as spinning plates on the floor. This let them to enter his world and gradually draw him out.

Raun is what every parent of a special needs child dreams of - but doesn't dare hope for. He has made a full recovery and has no trace of autism.

The founders of the Autism Treatment Center of America™, the Kaufmans and their staff teach Son-Rise to parents and carers from across the world.

They don't promise miracles and some respond better than others, but most improve.

There has been a record 22 per cent rise in autism among Scots primary school children in just one year.

In total, 653 Scots children were found to have developed the condition in 2001.

It is the third most prevalent developmental disorder in the world, more common than Down's Syndrome. Danielle and Shaun's improvements came about after a trip to the Son-Rise centre in America.

Sue, 39, of Leith, Edinburgh, a secretary for Hibs junior members club, was distraught when first Shaun, then Danielle, were diagnosed autistic at just four years old.

Apart from being provided with a speech therapist, and advice on special schools, Sue was given little information and no reason to hope that her children could ever do what other kids their age could.

"I was told it was unlikely Shaun would ever read or write," says Sue, who is separated from the children's father Greg. Shaun made little eye contact. Danielle none whatsoever.

Then, in 1997 Sue watched a BBC documentary about an English boy who went through the Son-Rise programme with amazing results.

She wanted the same opportunities for her children but it would take around £10,000 for them both to visit the centre in Sheffield, Massachusetts.

In the meantime, a start-up course for parents was running in London. Sue and Greg, 43, who works for a brewery, signed up.

It helped the couple learn techniques they could use at home to get Shaun and Danielle started on Son-Rise.

Sue says: "We were guided through all the emotions you have as the parents of a special needs child. It helps you to accept your children as they are - any progress is a bonus."

With the help of Hibs, Sue organised a series of fund- raising events. In 18 months, they had £36,000 - enough for Shaun and Danielle to visit the US centre in 1999 and to build two specially- adapted playrooms in their home.

Back home, the couple - who have another son, Kerr, aged eight - used the skills they had learned, with help from volunteers from Edinburgh University and family friends.

"The differences in both of them now are like night and day," says Sue, who is still looking for volunteers to help her.

"They make eye contact, talk and respond to hugs."

Although both attend special schools, Danielle has certain lessons in mainstream classes. Most importantly, Shaun is learning to write.

Barry and Samahria Kaufman came up with Son-Rise when Raun was diagnosed severely autistic at 18 months. Medics said his IQ was below 30 and told them to give up on him, put him in an institution.

Barry and Samahria had no background in teaching or medicine. Yet they refused to give up on Raun, who had withdrawn into his own world.

The devoted parents observed him and tried to understand his world.

They concluded that autistic children are over-stimulated so withdraw into themselves.

They tried to join Raun in his world and eventually bring him out into theirs.

By the time he was four, Raun was in a mainstream school. The autism was gone.

In 1979, a TV movie was made about Raun called Son-Rise: The Miracle of Love.

Critics accuse the Kaufmans of giving false hope to parents of autistic children.

But Raun says: "Hope is the belief that something is possible. My entire life is the product of hope.

For Sue, there is no greater joy than watching her children engage with life and enjoy it.

"I started out wishing for a miracle cure for Shaun and Danielle," she says. "Now, I'm happy if they are happy."