I’ve very little experience in or knowledge of what care is needed or available for children on the autism spectrum. But I had a chance to speak with a friend with an autistic child, who has discovered a lesser known method of care that may be able to help. Please read and help me share with anyone you think will benefit from this.
Coming to terms with my firstborn and only child having autism has been the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. When we first became aware he was different, he was about a year old. He didn’t respond to his name, and seemed oblivious to the people around him. Friends and colleagues tried to allay our fears by saying he was too young for a proper diagnosis, but by the time he was 2, we had no doubt. Being a Paediatric doctor did not spare me from the many days and nights of crying, questioning and pleading. I had no answers, either for myself or for my family members who were all looking to me.
Life with a child with autism challenged so many things we took for granted, like going to a shopping centre or a food court. Figuring out his everyday needs consumed us, because he couldn’t tell us what he needed. We lived in a state of crisis aversion, doing whatever was necessary to avoid tantrums and meltdowns which lasted long beyond the terrible twos.
We tried the conventional, evidence-based methods available in Singapore. He went for occupational therapy and speech therapy. We started a home-based therapy programme using Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). We enrolled him in a special school. After 2 years, he went from being a non-verbal, disconnected but happy child, to a non-verbal, rigid, controlling, stressed out and anxious child who obviously wasn’t happy anymore. We couldn’t blame him. If your whole day involved people telling you to stop doing what you want to and do only what they wanted you to do, it would be completely understandable if you didn’t want to have anything to do with them.
Our son finally told us through an almighty sobbing episode that lasted 16 hours, that he’d had enough. So we stopped all his therapy and started looking for a better way of reaching him. After many more wrong turns, we found a little-known method called the Son-Rise Program®, which approaches autism from an entirely different perspective. Instead of the conventional understanding that autism is a neurobehavioural problem that causes our children to behave inappropriately, the Son-Rise Program actually believes that autism is primarily a weakness in social and relational “muscles”, and the behaviours that the world deems socially unacceptable are actually self-soothing or self-care mechanisms. One method that this program advocates is joining in with these exclusive, repetitive behaviours, in an attitude of love and acceptance. Basically, instead of telling them to stop what they’re doing, joining sends the message that we are interested in doing what they do just because they like to do it, and because we love them. Although it sounded crazy, we decided to try. We felt we had nothing to lose at this point. So off we went to the Autism Treatment Center of America in Massachusetts to learn how to help our child using this program.
From that first day when we started entering his world through joining his behaviours, we’ve seen breakthrough after breakthrough. Instead of what everyone feared, which was that we would end up reinforcing the very behaviours we were seeking to stop, he actually started to look at us more, and smile at us as if saying, “You finally get it! Isn’t this amazing?”. Soon he didn’t need those repetitive behaviours anymore, because he discovered how much more fun playing with someone could be. In the last 1½ years of running a Son-Rise Program for our son, he has started speaking in sentences, asking questions, and recently even commenting on the world around him. His imagination has blossomed so incredibly; he creates poems and songs and loves dancing. He expresses his concern for us with hugs and kisses.
We are finally hopeful and positive about his future, and believe that he can and will become someone truly amazing.
Also published on Medium.