As a boy, Raun Kaufman was diagnosed by multiple experts as severely autistic, with an IQ below 30, and destined to spend his life in an institution. Years later, Raun graduated with a degree in Biomedical Ethics from Brown University and has become a passionate and articulate autism expert and educator with no trace of his former condition.
So what happened?
Thanks to The Son-Rise Program, a revolutionary method created by his parents, Raun experienced a full recovery from autism. (His story was recounted in the best-selling book Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues and in the award-winning NBC television movie Son-Rise: A Miracle of Love.) In Autism Breakthrough, Raun presents the ground-breaking principles behind the program that helped him and thousands of other families with special children. Autism, he explains, is frequently misunderstood as a behavioral disorder when, in fact, it is a social relational disorder. Raun explains what it feels like to be autistic and shows how and why The Son-Rise Program works.
A step-by-step guide with clear, practical strategies that readers can apply immediately―in some cases, parents see changes in their children in as little as one day―Autism Breakthrough makes it possible for these special children to defy their original often-very-limited prognoses. Parents and educators learn how to enable their children to create meaningful, caring relationships, vastly expand their communications, and to participate successfully in the world.
An important work of hope, science, and progress, Autism Breakthrough presents the powerful ideas and practical applications that have already changed the lives of families all over the world.
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Raun K. Kaufman, international lecturer and Director of Global Education of the Autism Treatment Center of America™, has a unique history. As a child, Raun was diagnosed with severe Autism. His parents developed The Son-Rise Program®, which enabled Raun to completely recover from his Autism with no trace of his former condition. His story was recounted in the book, Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues, and the NBC-TV movie, Son-Rise: A Miracle of Love. A graduate of the Ivy League's Brown University with a degree in Biomedical Ethics, Raun has written articles featured in a host of journals and books and has been interviewed by media such as National Public Radio, BBC Television, Fox News Channel, and People Magazine.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
My Recovery from Autism and the Myth of False Hope
YOU LOVE YOUR child more than anything in the world.
In the early days of your child’s life, long before any diagnosis was made, there may have been a hundred different hopes, dreams, and plans you had for your child. Maybe some were as simple as cuddling with your child or playing peek-a-boo. Perhaps some were as far-reaching as your child’s high school graduation or wedding day.
But then your child was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
You may have felt that many doors were suddenly closed to the child you love because this diagnosis is often accompanied by a long list of dire predictions.
Your child will never talk.
Your child will never have friends.
Your child will never hold your hand.
Your child will never have a job or get married.
Perhaps even: your child will never love you.
You may have been told to discard many of those hopes and dreams and be “realistic” in the face of your child’s diagnosis. Certainly, there are many, many parents who have heard the pronouncement: “Autism is a lifelong condition.”
No one could fault you for feeling grief-stricken, scared, or even angry. You have just been told all of the things your child will never accomplish—as if it had been decided ahead of time. But before reading any further, it is crucial that you understand this: you don’t have to accept the limits placed upon your child.
Your child has the capacity for learning and communicating, for experiencing real happiness, and developing warm, loving, and satisfying relationships. Your son or daughter can learn to enjoy affection, play a game, and laugh at something silly. He or she can learn to savor the experience of being hugged or held by you. That moment when your child spontaneously looks into your eyes with genuine joy and connection—that is something you can have, not just for a fleeting second but on a sustained basis. Do you ever imagine your child playing Little League, joining you on a bike ride, going on a skiing trip with you, playing with other kids at the park, or doing something in the future such as going to college? These events are possible. Children on the autism spectrum are capable of great change, including recovery.
Who am I to tell you this? I’m someone who’s been there—not where you are, but where your child is.
I used to be autistic.
I know, I know. That one’s a bit hard to digest. You don’t often find “used to be” and “autistic” in the same sentence. This is truly unfortunate, because it points to the intense pessimism and utter hopelessness with which autism is viewed by the people doing the diagnosing. Do you know what my chances of recovery were, according the specialists assessing me?
That’s right: 0%.
Here’s what happened.
When I was a young boy, my parents (authors and teachers Barry Neil Kaufman and Samahria Lyte Kaufman) saw that I was developing very differently from my two older sisters. I cried incessantly and inconsolably. When I was picked up, I let my arms dangle loosely at my sides.
Before my first birthday, I suffered a severe ear and throat infection, compounded by a violent allergic reaction to the antibiotics prescribed. My life briefly hung in the balance. After a battery of hearing tests, my parents were told that I appeared deaf. As months passed, I seemed increasingly cut off, spiraling ever deeper into my own world.
I stopped responding to my name.
I ceased making eye contact.
I appeared alternately repulsed by and oblivious to the sights and sounds around me.
I appeared deaf to a loud noise right next to me and then mesmerized by an almost inaudible whisper in the next room.
I lost all interest in other people, but I would remain transfixed by inanimate objects, staring at a pen, a mark on the wall, even my own hands, for long periods of time.
I didn’t want to be touched or held.
I spoke not a word (nor did I cry, yell, point, or do anything to communicate my wishes), displaying a total muteness that stood in sharp contrast to my earlier crying marathons.
And then something startling: I became fascinated with the simplest of repetitive activities, spinning plates on their edges for hours on the floor, rocking back and forth, flapping my hands in front of my face.
As my condition worsened, my parents raced from specialist to specialist, trying to find out what was wrong. Tests. Tapping pencils. Shaking heads. More tests. (Keep in mind that, in 1973, the year I was born, autism was much less common than it is now, affecting one out of every five thousand children. The latest study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts the incidence of autism at one out of every fifty children.) Soon I was diagnosed as severely autistic. My parents were informed that my IQ was less than 30.
What can feel like a devastating diagnosis is not really due to the autism diagnosis itself. The devastation comes primarily from the prognosis—all the things parents are told that their child will not do and cannot accomplish.
Like many parents today, my parents were told that the prognosis was certain. I would never speak or communicate in any meaningful way. I would never prefer people over objects. I would never emerge from my solitary world and be “normal.” Moreover, I would never go to college, have a career, or play baseball. I would never fall in love, drive a car, or write a poem. I might, one day, be able to dress myself or eat with utensils, but that was the ceiling of my possibilities.
My parents, seeking solutions, were given only grim pronouncements. They searched for a light at the end of the tunnel and were given only dark predictions. Over and over again, it was drilled into my parents’ heads: autism is a lifelong condition. The specialists explained that, when I got older, my parents would need to look into permanent institutionalization so that I could be properly looked after.
I am still astounded at what my mother and father chose to do in the face of such a damning verdict. They didn’t believe what they were told. They didn’t write me off. Instead, they turned their backs on all the dire prognoses. My parents looked at me and saw possibilities, not deficiencies. Instead of looking at me with fear, they viewed me with wonder.
And so they began an experiment. They began by seeking to create an environment where I felt truly safe. They didn’t push me. They didn’t try to change my behaviors. They sought first to understand me. Think about this for a moment. How often do we really do this—with anyone? People behave in ways we don’t understand all the time. For most of us, our knee-jerk response is to try to get that person to change—whether that person is our partner, our friend, a store clerk, an employee, our parent, or, indeed, our child. When do we ever begin our response by truly seeking to understand without pushing, to provide the other person with an experience of safety and caring without trying to get him or her to change? How amazing that my parents began from this most kind and useful place.
Having heard thousands of parents tell me about their experiences with their children’s diagnosis and treatment, how they were given a laundry list of things “wrong” with their child, this description from the opening page of my father’s book Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues touches me deeply:
His little hands hold the plate delicately as his eyes survey its smooth perimeter. His mouth curls in delight. He is setting the stage. This is his moment, as was the last and each before. This is the beginning of his entry into the solitude that has become his world. Slowly, with a masterful hand, he places the edge of the plate on the floor, sets his body in a comfortable and balanced position, and snaps his wrist with great expertise. The plate begins to spin with dazzling perfection. It revolves on itself as if set in motion by some exacting machine. And it was.
This is not an isolated act, not a mere aspect of some childhood fantasy. It is a conscious and delicately skilled activity performed by a very little boy for a very great and expectant audience—himself.
As the plate moves swiftly, spinning hypnotically on its edge, the little boy bends over it and stares squarely into its motion. Homage to himself, to the plate. For a moment, the boy’s body betrays a just perceptible movement similar to the plate’s. For a moment, the little boy and his spinning creation become one. His eyes sparkle. He swoons in the playland that is himself. Alive. Alive.
Raun Kahlil—a little man occupying the edge of the universe.
Before this time, this every moment, we had always been in awe of Raun, our notably special child. We sometimes referred to him as “brain-blessed.” He had always seemed to be riding the high of his own happiness. Highly evolved. Seldom did he cry or utter tones of discomfort. In almost every way, his contentment and solitude seemed to suggest a profound inner peace. He was a seventeen-month-old Buddha contemplating another dimension.
A little boy set adrift on the circulation of his own system. Encapsulated behind an invisible but seemingly impenetrable wall. Soon he would be labeled. A tragedy. Unreachable. Bizarre. Statistically, he would fall into a category reserved for all those we see as hopeless … unapproachable … irreversible. For us the question: could we kiss the ground that others had cursed?
Coming from this reverential vantage point, my parents asked themselves what they could do to understand me and my world. The answer began with something that my mother did. She wanted to understand me—and also to show me that she accepted me as I was. That I didn’t have to change to be loved.
So she began to join me in my repetitive, supposedly autistic behaviors. I would sit on the floor and rock … and she would rock with me. I would spin a plate on its edge … and she would spin her own plate next to mine. I would flap my hands in front of my face … and she would flap with me.
My parents so respected me that they focused totally on what my experience was—not on whether I looked strange or different to other people.
Hour after hour … day after day … month after month, my mother waited. Patiently, my parents waited.
Every once in a while, and only while “joining,” as my parents came to call this true participation in my interests and activities, I glanced at my mother. I smiled at her. I grazed her with the tips of my fingers.
And as my parents began to truly understand my world, as they communicated in a thousand different ways, over and over again, that I was safe, that I was loved, that I was accepted, something astonishing happened. A connection began to form. Slowly, carefully, I began to peek out from behind the veil of my special world. Tentatively, I began to join them in theirs.
As my mother spent hours upon hours on the floor working with me, she made herself my friend in my world. In so doing, a bond of trust evolved. She cherished and celebrated every look, every smile, every moment of connection for which my parents had waited so long. She cheered me on with every small step.
As my relationship with my parents and the world of people strengthened, my mom and dad continued to build an entire program of therapy around me. They helped me to increase my social connection to them and to others, encouraging me to play with them, to look at them, to laugh with them, to take their hands. They constructed interactive games based upon my burgeoning interests, such as animals and airplanes. At every turn, they accomplished this with a deep caring, encouragement, and support—never pushing, always inviting.
Can you imagine it? They embarked on this experimental journey after hearing nothing but hopeless predictions for me. They continued to reach out to me when I gave them nothing in return.
And they persevered in the face of consistent criticism. Learned professionals told my parents that their “joining” would reinforce and increase my “inappropriate autistic behaviors.” These professionals chastised my parents for doing the opposite of the behavior modification techniques they recommended—and for having “false hope,” for putting their time into an unproven (and just created) approach that “had no hope of succeeding.” Family members expressed grave doubts and concerns that my parents were “doing their own thing” and not leaving my treatment in the hands of professionals who “knew best.”
Remember, too, that, in those days, the world of autism treatment was a barren wasteland. There were no nightly news stories waxing on about the latest treatments or detailing the lives of families with children on the spectrum. There was no Autism Awareness Month.
My parents witnessed children being jolted with electric shocks, tied to chairs, placed in dark prison-like rooms, held down—and were told that this was progress, the best modern medicine had to offer.
To help me, they had to walk in the opposite direction, alone. Without any support, they supported me. They worked and waited. They persisted and persevered. Not knowing what the future held, not requiring my reciprocation of their love, care, smiles, and cheers, they gave me every chance.
For three and a half years, they worked with me, painstakingly building a bridge from my world to theirs.
And it all paid off.
I recovered completely from my autism without any trace of my former condition. (Go to www.autismbreakthrough.com/chapter1 to see some childhood photos of me and my parents.) The years of work, the late nights, the persevering in the face of ongoing criticism, the love and dedication—it bore the kind of fruit it was never supposed to bear. It produced the outcome it was never supposed to produce. And I’ve lived the life I was never supposed to live.
THE CREATION OF THE AUTISM TREATMENT CENTER OF AMERICA
My parents developed this innovative, home-based, child-centered autism treatment program because of their very personal experiences entering my world. At the same time, the method they created was based upon what autism actually is—a difficulty connecting and bonding with others—rather than how autism is typically treated—as a problem of inappropriate behavior that must be extinguished, altered, and retrained.
They called their approach The Son-Rise Program.
There were several factors that made their approach unique. First, it was created by parents. That alone was a gigantic departure from the doctor/professional/lab-created norm. Second, my parents began with the premise that children on the autism spectrum are capable of limitless growth. Third, they started by joining me in my world rather than forcing me to conform to theirs. Fourth, they used motivation, rather than repetition, as the doorway to learning. Moreover, they focused on having a nonjudgmental and welcoming attitude with me, seeing that my responsiveness was largely dependent on the attitudes and emotions of the people working with me. And, finally, unlike every other treatment they saw, my parents prioritized human interaction over academics and tasks such as naming colors, adding numbers, and brushing teeth.
But until my recovery was complete, none of these concepts had spread beyond the walls of our house. Until my father wrote a book about it.
Shortly after my recovery in the late 1970s, my father wrote a best-selling book recounting our story entitled Son-Rise—now updated as Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues. (My father has wri...
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