Son-Rise voted ‘best therapy’ – what the sceptics have to say

By Alive & Well


At the recent AutismOne Conference in the USA, the Son-Rise Program took out the award for “Best Therapy”, based on a vote from the public, in a category including ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) and RDI (Relationship Development Intervention).

At the recent AutismOne Conference in the USA, the Son-Rise Program took out the award for “Best Therapy”, based on a vote from the public, in a category including ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) and RDI (Relationship Development Intervention).

AutismOne awards for Son-Rise – Best Therapy and Best Presenter

This award is much deserved recognition for the extraordinary work of the founders and staff of the Autism Treatment Center of America (ATCA) – who, incidentally, provided free childcare to 32 children with autism over the course of the 5-day conference, just because they’re genuinely good people who love to help.

What has surprised me is the number of autism blogs and organisations that have gone out of their way to denounce Son-Rise since they won the award. There has always been some scepticism from people who don’t have direct knowledge of the program, but it seemed to develop a head of steam after they won this award, which I find curious.

I thought it might be worth taking a moment to share my thoughts on some of the assertions I’ve seen.

“There’s no research supporting Son-Rise”

There’s actually a lot of research underpinning the methodologies of the Son-Rise Program, which you’ll find if you put ‘research’ into the ATCA website’s search engine. Further study was undertaken recently with a major US university and I imagine the results will be published soon.

For those who believe that only therapies that have been proven through randomised control trials (science’s golden standard) should be used, I can only say, really? I’m a scientist by training and a strong believer in randomised trials for drugs with serious side effects, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. I’m not going to wait around for very expensive longitudinal studies to be funded (and by whom?) and then conducted and let my child be the ‘control’ child. I don’t have time for that. I know that parents can make up their own minds based on what they see when they – and their children – experience different types of therapies.

“Raun is the only child to move off the Spectrum using Son-Rise”

Not so. Firstly, for those not familiar with Raun, he’s the original recipient of the therapies now known as the Son-Rise Program – it was his parents who came up with them. As a child in the 1970s, Raun was severely autistic; through his parents’ love, acceptance, hope and dedication, he developed exceptional social skills – and a razor sharp wit – and went on to ace school and university. He is now Director of Global Education at the ATCA, an inspirational speaker and advocate, and, incidentally, won Best Presenter at the AutismOne conference too (check out his presentation).

But Raun’s not the only child who has overcome his symptoms through Son-Rise. There are many others (some of their stories are on YouTube). From my ‘cohort’ of Son-Rise parents alone, I know several children who are back in mainstream schooling without any extra help. Almost all children are making fantastic progress – my Mr 8 among them. A few children have made a small amount of progress. And the best part is that Son-Rise has not only helped them, it has supported the parents as well, by teaching them how to thrive while parenting children with varying degrees of challenges, regardless of how much progress they make. It’s not just about the children.

“Son-Rise doesn’t teach skills”

Well yes, it does. But it starts with social interaction skills first, because they’re fundamental to our ability to be ‘taught’ in a mainstream way. It does that by encouraging respectful, reciprocated social interaction with the child (autism is, after all, a social relationship challenge) and then when the child is ready to learn, they can move onto other skills and ‘academic’ stuff.

More than anything, what’s perplexing to me is that we spend so much time telling parents we know better than them, and criticising them for the choices they make in the best interests of their children. This despite the fact that there cannot be anyone in this world who knows their children better, or loves them more, or is more motivated to get them the help they need.

I would love for the autism world to respect parents’ ability to use their own judgement, to take the best of each approach and apply it when it is most needed. Because every child with autism is different, and will respond to different things at different stages of their development. Right now, my priorities for my son are to ensure he is as outrageously healthy and strong as he can possibly be, and in a great environment for developing social skills. Son-Rise is a big part of that, but we use other programs at various times as well – like HANDLE for his sensory integration challenges.

Let’s support parents to explore all the different approaches and match them to their own child’s needs. Who’s with me?!