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The Son-Rise Program®

What is The Son-Rise Program®?

The Son-Rise Program® was created by Barry Neil Kaufman and Samahria Lyte Kaufman, parents of Raun K. Kaufman, in an effort to reach their child. They were told that he would never speak or communicate in any meaningful way and that his autism was a "lifelong condition". They developed an innovative child-centered program they called The Son-Rise Program and established The Option Institute and the Autism Treatment Center of America in 1983.

In The Son-Rise Program, the most important place to begin is to know that you don't have to accept the limits that may have been placed upon your child. Your child has the capacity for learning, communicating, experiencing real joy and happiness and developing warm, loving, and satisfying relationships.

The Foundation of The Son-Rise Program

The foundation of The Son-Rise Program rests up on the idea that children show us the way in, and then we show them the way out. This means that, rather than forcing our children to conform to a world they do not understand, we begin by joining them in their world first. In this way, we establish a mutual connection and relationship. This is the platform for all education and growth! Since autism is fundamentally a social relational disorder, creating interpersonal relationships and social interaction remains our primary focus.

The crucial starting point for The Son-Rise Program and one of the first principles taught to parents in the Start-Up course is called joining. Instead of stopping our children’s repetitive “stimming” behaviors, we join in with these behaviors. The idea is that our children are performing their behaviors for reasons that are important to them (and, as an increasing body of research shows, these behaviors often serve a physiological purpose, as well). When we show interest in what our children are doing, we establish a powerful bond around this common interest. This is so important, because we find repeatedly that children begin to display an interest in us when we have an abiding interest in them. What’s more, this interest is spontaneous, not forced. These children interact because they want to.

When deciding to join, you’ll want to look for behaviors that are both repetitive (occurring over and over again or with sameness) and exclusive (non-interactive, being performed as a way to tune others out). Then you simply engage in this behavior with your child, displaying a genuine interest but not trying to change the behavior. At this point, wait for your child to initiate connection by looking at you, stopping his/her activity, speaking to you, taking your hand, etc. Joining establishes a strong connection between you and your child. We see time and time again with the thousands of families with whom we work that when children on the autism spectrum are joined, they become less interested in their activity and begin to look at us more, pay more attention to us, and even initiate interaction with us.

Once we have our children’s willing engagement, the door is open to help those children to learn and grow. One of our key teaching principles is to capitalize on each child’s own motivation. With children on the autism spectrum, traditional learning modalities will rarely be motivating. Therefore, we customize the presentation of any curriculum to match each child’s highest areas of interest.

Instead of pushing a child to repeat a task (and receive rewards) over and over again as a way to facilitate mastery, we build games and activities around the interests that child already has (such as Thomas the Tank engine, dinosaurs, or physical play). This way, we work with each child instead of trying to teach “against the grain.” Thus, learning is exponentially increased - with a powerful benefit: we have our children’s willing and excited cooperation. And when a child has learned something – not memorized it, but learned it – it becomes a generalized skill that he/she can use spontaneously (rather than in a more robotic manner).

When it comes to creating child-specific goals, helping children to achieve them, and tracking how far along each child is, we use a special tool called The Son-Rise Program Social Developmental Model. The centerpiece of this model, the Four Fundamentals of Socialization, include:

  • Eye contact & nonverbal communication
  • Verbal communication
  • Interactive attention span
  • Flexibility (this last Fundamental being the most under-appreciated goal in traditional learning environments).

Most crucially, we focus on these social goals before academic goals. Academic goals, while important, will do nothing to help our children overcome their central challenge of connecting with others socially. As first priority, do we want our children do have more math or more friends? Do we want our children to compensate for their socialization challenges or overcome them?

For this same reason, we want to prioritize the interaction over any one goal. No matter how important we think a particular goal is, interaction and connection will always get our children further in the long run. For a child to accomplish a particular goal on a Thursday instead of Friday is much less significant than for that child to continue to build a bridge of interaction between his/her world and ours. So, if you start to see that sticking with your goal is creating tension, conflict, or resistance, set the goal aside for the moment and keep the interaction alive.

How does The Son-Rise Program make a Difference for People on the Autism Spectrum?

  • Joining in a child's repetitive and ritualistic behaviors supplies the key to unlocking the mystery of these behaviors and facilitates eye contact, social development and the inclusion of others in play.
  • Utilizing a child's own motivation advances learning and builds the foundation for education and skill acquisition.
  • Teaching through interactive play results in effective and meaningful socialization and communication.
  • Using energy, excitement and enthusiasm engages the child and inspires a continuous love of learning and interaction.
  • Employing a nonjudgmental and optimistic attitude maximizes the child's enjoyment, attention and desire throughout their Son-Rise Program®.
  • Placing the parent as the child's most important and lasting resource provides a consistent and compelling focus for training, education and inspiration.
  • Creating a safe, distraction-free work/play area facilitates the optimal environment for learning and growth.

Who is qualified as a Son-Rise Program treatment provider?
The Autism Treatment Center of America offers several training courses to both parents and professionals including:

  • "The Son-Rise Program Start-Up", which is a 5 day introductory training course for parents and professionals. This course is offered several times a year on their campus.
  • "The Son-Rise Program Sequence", which consists of one Foundational Course and two Advanced Training Courses.
  • For Professionals, The Autism Treatment Center of America, offers two training programs: Son-Rise Program Staff Child Facilitator and Son-Rise Program Staff Teacher. Learn more information about these programs here.

Article Provided By:

The Son-Rise Program®

Autism Treatment Center of America

Raun K. Kaufman


What Research is there to Support the Son-Rise Program®?

A study released in 2012 evaluated the ability of parents to implement low or high intensity Son-Rise Programs with their children on the autism spectrum. Parents attended two, five-day training courses offered by The National Autism Center, known as The Son-Rise Program State-Up. Parents who “administered SRP intervention reported significant improvements in communication, sociability, and sensory and cognitive awareness in their children, with greater gains associated with high intensity compared to low intensity interventions.”1 Some limitations of this study include not being able completely match individuals on the autism spectrum in regards to their cognitive, communicative, and other abilities and children who participated in this study were only monitored by their parents, with parent reports being the basis for the study’s findings.1

According to the Autism Treatment Center of America, home of the Son-Rise Program, an ongoing research project launched in 2007 aims to evaluate “the immediate effects of The Son-Rise Program methodology when delivered by professionals to children with autism.”2 The Autism Treatment Center of America pledges to post the results when this study is completed. To date, there has been very little research published on the efficacy of the Son-Rise Program. Future studies should include methodological improvements, including large sample size and include control groups and the study should be independent of the Autism Treatment Center of America. Despite the lack of independent research on the SRP, in-house statistics, which are based upon parents’ own evaluation of their children’s improvements, have shown substantial improvements in language, attention span, and eye contact.3 Research findings that discuss the effectiveness of the key principles of the Son-Rise Program can be found here.