Raun Kaufman runs an organisation dedicated to helping families treat their autistic children — which is startling when you consider that Kaufman was himself an autistic child. He claims that thanks to his parents’ tireless work with him, he made a full recovery from the condition.
In fact, Kaufman became the subject of a bestselling book, Son-Rise, by his father, Barry Kaufman, which documented Raun’s recovery from autism. The book became the subject of an NBC television film, Son-Rise — A Miracle of Love.
Kaufman now heads the Autism Treatment Centre of America which runs the Son-Rise programme and is now in Britain for a lecture tour. He hoped to persuade parents of autistic children that there is a treatment for the condition — characterised by impaired social interaction and restricted and repetitive behaviour — a position which runs counter to the established medical wisdom.
Kaufman says: “I was an autistic child with all the classic symptoms. My parents did something incredible. They turned their back on medical orthodoxy and developed their own child-centred programme. I recovered without any trace of my autistic condition. I finished school and went to university — none of that was even meant to be on the cards for me.”
He explains how the system worked for him. “My parents realised that autism was not a behavioural disorder but a relationship disorder. So they said, ‘We are not going to try to change his behaviour, we are going to try to create a relationship with him.’ Rather than make me conform to a world that I didn’t understand, they tried to join me in my world — by mimicking my own behaviours. That was the first step, the next was to focus intensively on socialisation techniques, enabling me to connect socially with other people.”
Kaufman estimates that around 20,000 families around the world use Son-Rise techniques, and that the overwhelming majority of their children have made excellent progress. Yet the scientific establishment remains sceptical. Indeed, at least one scientific paper has doubted that Kaufman was ever autistic in the first place. The National Autistic Society also remains unconvinced, stating in a press release that, “autism is a serious lifelong and disabling condition for which there is, at present no known cure… While very intensive programmes like Son-Rise may have benefits for some children, they are often expensive and require a huge amount of dedicated time.” Research Autism says it cannot recommend Son-Rise due to lack of scientific research although given the programme’s anecdotal evidence “objective research is justified”.
Research is indeed being carried out at the North Western University in Chicago and at Lancaster University in this country, with findings due in 2010. However, Kaufman suggests that there is already plenty of evidence out there. “Studies have come out in the last 10 years which although not specifically endorsing Son-Rise, say that when you join children in their world, they become more social. In other words, when you do what we are doing, children respond to it.”
He adds that anecdotal evidence should not be discounted: “I work with so many families and I’ve see so many children progress beyond the original prognosis that I feel that it is really obvious that this process is effective.”
Kaufman hesitates to use the word “cure” although he does claim that many autistic children have recovered from autism using this method.
“Cure is a very political word — it implies a magic pill. But put it another way, if you get hit by a bus, you can’t be cured but you can recover. There are plenty of people like me who have no trace of autism in their personality. Parents would not continue with an intensive programme like ours if they did not see improvements.”