While Son-Rise is among the older methods of treating autism, it is by no means the most popular or best researched. It does, however, have a dedicated following among families who believe its methods and philosophy have made all the difference in their lives.
To learn more about Son-Rise, its methods, its claims and its teachings, I spoke directly with Raun Kaufman. Here's what I learned.
How is Son-Rise different from other developmental therapies?
I see autism treatment on a continuum. On the left side of the line is ABA (behavioral therapy); on the right side of the line is Son-Rise, with TEACCH, Floortime and RDI (other developmental therapies) in between.
[Like Floortime], Son-Rise is all about relationships -- what makes life stimulating and worth living. Often, we think of these children as "different" and in need of being made more "the same" -- but at the end of the day, the central deficit is difficulty connecting and making relationships. That was my main challenge when I was a little kid.
There is a fundamental difference, though, between Floortime and Son-Rise. Floortime uses "playful obstruction" -- trying to get interaction by doing things to make the interaction happen. I like the word "playful" (something that gets lost in the shuffle) -- but we would never be playfully obstructive. The reason: We also agree that getting interaction is the most important thing, but the way we go about it is different.
If a child has to negotiate with you to move you, he is interacting -- but he does get the message that people are a pain in the neck. What we want to do is get children to get engaged with us on their own -- "willing engagement." We want them to feel that people are easy to deal with. We would do nothing to get in their way, but do parallel play [play beside him, but not attempt to engage him].
If a child with autism was playing with a train, a Son-Rise approach would be to get a train of your own, and do the same thing. You'd stay maybe four feet away, but within their line of vision. Not up close. Not doing anything to get the child's attention. We find that we don't have to hope they'll notice -- they always notice. Maybe not right away, but over time. We are trying to get as involved and excited about trains as the child is. We might do this with the child and then wait. It could be 10 seconds, could be hours. The child will eventually look at us or engage us in some way.
If they look at us, then we might engage the child, ask them to do something interactive with us. One myth is that we do only what the child does -- but we only do this until we get willing engagement. Then we move to games that are interactive and engage the child. We spend a lot of time developing and offering games that are interactive and highly motivating. We build off of where the child is. We join to willing engagement, then initiate an interactive game based on child's interests.
We're trying to find out, what is a particular child's motivation? What are they into? Physical movement? A particular character? We spend a lot of time looking for that. Once we find things that are motivating, we make sure games have something the child already loves, and a social challenge. Then we can increase attention span, improve verbal communication. We have existing games, and some that are developed on the spot -- improvisation.
There's another important difference between Son-Rise and Floortime: Floortime focuses on specific developmental milestones. We tend to focus pretty much exclusively on social interaction: We don't go back to build developmental abilities.
It's also important to note that in Son-Rise, the person who is most important is the parent. They have the long-term commitment and love for the long haul. Parents have the central role.