Recently, I was contacted out of the blue by someone I hardly knew and hadn’t seen for more than 15 years. She probably messaged because I am fundraising to go to an Autism Treatment Center of America (ATCA) training course called the New Frontiers – Son-rise Program. This person proceeded to tell me why the program/therapy we chose for our child was “wrong”, for the lack of a better word.
Being weirded out by the experience, I hooked up with some fellow parents from our supportive Son-Rise community for some sanity and advice. They shared their own stories of negative family members, friends and yes, even strangers too! These truly awesome parents helped me see past the unpleasantness towards the beliefs and viewpoints that would benefit me and my child, Little Star, the most.
Critiques about the Son-Rise Program
(and why we chose SRP regardless)
The Son-Rise Program (SRP) is not mainstream like ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis), where children learn by rewards, repetition, structure, breaking down large tasks into small steps etc. Rather, the Son-Rise Program can best be described as a form of play therapy, where the adult joins the child in his world, at her level.
Not being mainstream or commonly used, SRP is often criticized and discredited. It is definitely not the favorite of professionals, psychiatrists, and doctors, for a number of reasons:
Son-Rise claims to recover children with autism
There is a lot of misunderstanding that SRP claims to be a magic therapy that can recover your child from autism, that it is their selling point. Actually, SRP’s point of view is that if you want your child to grow and improve, you must believe that she can recover from autism. Whether or not he ultimately recovers is irrelevant. But without the hope and belief in your child’s recovery, then you won’t take all the necessary actions, or be that constantly creative, fun, playmate she needs to improve. It is the belief in your child, much more that the fact of the recovery that will truly help him or her (and you)!
Son-rise is not professional enough
SRP advocates for the parents of the child to be the primary actors in his program. Not the therapists, not the specialists, not the doctors, not the teachers, THE PARENTS.
When you have a child with ASD (or a child who is ill, although ASD is not an illness), you will be bombarded on all sides for you to do this intervention, send her to that early intervention / therapy center, try this activity, that doctor, and the list goes on. This is all based on the belief that parents are not skilled or have appropriate training to work with their child. This is true. We don’t have PhDs in child psychology or speech pathology. But there is one thing we do have that no other professional does. HOURS — we parents spend the most time with our special children. No 1-4 hours a week with a BCBA, therapist or special educator is ever going to beat the 24-hours-7-days-a-week parents are with their kids. If there is a way to mobilize that time we spend with our kids with meaningful interactions and play, so they can work their weak social muscles constantly, wouldn’t it be amazing?
Son-rise results are not consistent and therefore not scientific
SRP is not a one-size-fits-all program. Although the principles and techniques are universal, not all families are going to suit the Son-Rise Program. You are going to get different results from family to family, because at the moment, there is no way to determine the quality of their programs are the same. The ATCA just rolls out the training, that is their responsibility. In the end, the efficacy of the program is up to the parents.
If you only do a few hours a week of SRP, if you are hardly home, if you do not have a playroom (or a quiet space for you and child to play alone), if you are reliant on your helpers to do the therapy, if you yourself do not believe the program will work…. then the results will look very different from say, families who do 25-40 hours of Son-Rise a week, whose entire household practice the program, who has a network of volunteers, and where parents are super actors, taking time off work or rearranging their schedule so that the child can get the hours of play therapy she needs. SRP is not a magic program; we may need to run it for years to see good results. Raun Kaufman’s parents ran his program for 3 years. His sister, Bryn and her husband William Hogan, ran their daughter’s program for 5 years. Some Son-Rise parents run theirs longer, some shorter — but always with a long-term perspective. That is where hope and belief come in. Commitment and dedication are very important in SRP.
Son-Rise is like a cult
There are those who complain that the Son-Rise Program parent community is like a cult. When I was researching the Son-Rise Program before deciding to attend the Start-Up course in 2015, and read all the articles and comments of SRP supporters… the thought occurred to me too. People will say that it is life-changing! You will never find a program like it! The exorbitant fee is worth it! Their child/grandchild/nephew/friend’s child has recovered or on the road to recovery! It did sound rather cultish.
But now that I am in the community, I totally get where they are coming from. It is life changing. Imagine going into an Autism course full of worry, sadness, helplessness about your child on with ASD… and coming out full of joy, gladness, hope and excitement to start your child’s program. It’s literally the other end of the emotional spectrum. And guess what? It doesn’t really go away 🙂 Of course, I do get days when I feel down. However, the beauty of Son-Rise is that you quickly realize that the negativity is more about your own expectations than your child’s situation. So I can dust myself off and start over in the next instant (or day).
And the SRP parent community is an immense help. Those recovery stories? They are totally real. How do I know? Because we share stories about our kids all the time. The good. The bad. The amazing. The tears of joy moments. I know parents who have recovered their kids with Son-Rise (like as in, know them personally). I know those with older kids who are making incredible strides. I know those whose children have severe challenges, but are improving so much thanks to the sunny, positive, uplifting attitudes of their parents. Each and every story is an inspiration.
You know what is a better analogy than a cult? I find Son-Rise to be more like a religious community (only with parenting principles :p) Not being very religious myself, I find it warm and comforting to be part of a community that supports each other, where someone always drops an “are you ok” or “you can do it” line, where you can get lots of pep talks, troubleshoots and therapy if you are just willing to reach out to someone. I know now, for sure, that I am not alone, or lonely in this journey.
Every child will respond differently to Son-Rise
Lastly, do not forget, every child with ASD is vastly different, and will respond in their own way, at their own pace. For my daughter, it took more than 6 months for the beginnings of speech to occur. For others, 1-2 months. But will they improve with SRP? I say ABSOLUTELY 🙂 It is hard to imagine no improvements occur with such a loving program.
Learn more about the Son-Rise Program
If you want to know more in depth about the Son-Rise Program, and not judge it based on what other people think or say about it, I encourage you to read Raun Kaufman’s book “Autism Breakthrough” (also available in audiobook form). It is very engaging as he writes like how he talks. There are no jargons or complicated concepts, everything will make sense to you as you read it (or at least, that was how I felt). It will especially resonate if you are the Attachment Parenting sort of parent. Not so much with the Tiger Moms, I’m afraid, who would be a better fit for ABA-styled therapy.
You can also visit the ATCA’s YouTube channel, which is chock-a-block full of useful, informative, fun and some (MOST!) downright wacky videos demonstrating techniques and games using Son-Rise Program principles. I do admit, you need to read the book or go to a training understand them holistically.
One very good video I recommend in particular is Autism Solutions, a 1-hr video that introduces the Son-Rise Program, how it started, some basic techniques, and even has a number of clips of therapists playing with children to illustrate them. Very useful.
You can also email me! Seriously. We love to share about the program. In fact, Embrace Autism in Singapore (we are in Malaysia btw) do free monthly Parent Sharing sessions with anyone who is interested in the program.
The next Start Up course is happening soon on 29 November 2016, so if you want to go, decide fast! Use my name “Shao Yi Liew” as a referral, you might get a discount (I haven’t tried it but I think the ATCA practice some kind of referral program. Not sure how it works, and not guaranteed, but worth a try).
So what did the SRP community help me realize?
After talking to a bunch of SRP parents (thank you), they reaffirmed some things that I sort of knew in the back of my mind, but was not giving space for to come out. In the end, this whole episode was more about me than a stranger whose opinion, as many of them pointed out, should not have mattered. You know the saying — I can’t control what others do, but I can control how I react towards it — especially rings true. They helped me see the situation differently. That this person is acting entirely from her own particular beliefs and assumptions about the world.
And I, I do the same. I am acting on the progress my child is making, the belief that SRP helps us and that what we are doing every day in the playroom matters, to US. Nothing anyone says or does can take away those magical hours in which I feel totally connected to my child, even when she is in the throes of a tantrum.
The fact is — Little Star has made a lot of gains since we started her Son-Rise Program. It may not be recovery yet, and it may not be up to some people’s measurement of success. But why should that matter to me anyway? Other people have their own trajectories and paths, and we, we have ours. The important thing is she is growing every day, and she is happy. You will not find a happier child (to me lah).
I quote an excerpt from our fundraiser article:
“Since Start Up more than a year ago , Little Star has come· a long· way· . We have· seen the most gains in eye contact· , interactive attention· span· , and flexibility . Speech and communication· are coming along too . Her eye contact· is super good· now , from a 20 % two· years· ago , to an average·of 70 % now . And it is totally self-initiated , spontaneous , unprompted , and absolutely meaningful .
Her interactive attention· span· , meaning her capacity· to interact· socially with people· (not objects) , was an estimated 5 minutes . Today I can play· socially with her for up to 15-20 minutesShe takes a little· break· , then frequently comes back for more on her own . She also actively seeks out people·to play· with . Although still strong-willed , Little Star is much more flexible· about her schedule· and activities . She eats much more and a bigger variety· of food· , which is amazing·for a once extremely picky· eater· ! Little Star is still sensitive·to certain noises , but has calmed down , and even enjoys sounds that used to frighten· her , such as piano· playing and whistles .
As for speech· , initially , we were worried as we did not see·much gains in the first· 6 months . But today I conclude· that Little Star needed to build up her attentiveness· to people·first· . Since her eye contact· and interactive attention· span·improved , her speech· has bubbled up . She has spoken many words· this past· 2 months or so . In the past· month ( 13 sept – 13 Oct) , she said 70 words· for a total· of 157 times( ! ! ) and I did not even record· all of them
We still have· a long· way· to go· , but today , it is as if we have· a map through the unknown· territory· of autism — once full· of fear· , now full· of adventure· .
So you can see· why the Son-Rise Program means so much to us .”