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The Son-Rise Program.

Which path is right for your autistic child?

March 19, 2014

There is more than one path forward for you and your autistic child, the question is which path is right for both of you? Parents are often told that there is only one correct way to help an autistic child. Here is a different perspective from a therapist with experience in two very different methods.

A guest post by Shelley Eves.

Over the past six years I have had the privilege of working as a therapist for children with Autism, while studying to become a psychologist and school counsellor. Over this time I have worked both as an ABA therapist and a son-rise playroom buddy. I worked as an ABA therapist for about four years before I was introduced to the Son-Rise Program. Since I will be in a profession where I will be making diagnoses for autism quite regularly, I wanted to explore and gain experience with an array of therapeutic interventions so I can give parents as many possibilities and as much hope as possible. So when I came across an opportunity to be part of a son-rise program, I was excited to be involved.

As an ABA therapist I saw some children make great strides, achieve many goals and enjoy their program. I also saw children become frustrated and disengage with their program. This came as no surprise to me as all children are different and, as with any other intervention for a medical condition, what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. It is important to have different options available.

Autism is a broad diagnosis that encompasses a wide range of traits and behaviours under the two common features of difficulties in social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviours. Considering the array of different characteristics children could have within these criteria, it makes sense that various therapies would have differing outcomes for different children.

Applied Behavior Analysis.While working in both ABA and the Son-Rise Program I got a sense of what kinds of kids would do well in each program. I noticed in my experience that it was the children who were quite ‘academic’ and enjoyed school-like activities and working within a structured environment that did well at ABA. ABA has clear and structured goals, levels and achievements that some children enjoy working towards. The program uses a lot of extrinsic motivation: rewards that are given and come from outside sources. For children who have motivators that are clear and able to be used as positive reinforcement, this extrinsic motivation can be effective and enjoyable.

However with some children I worked with in ABA, the structure was not appealing and it was difficult to gauge what was motivating to them at any given time, particularly with non-verbal kids who weren’t interested in toys, making the positive reinforcement that ABA relies on less effective. These children were more likely to be the kind of children who were non-verbal or had little verbal communication, and who spent a lot of time exclusive and engaged in stimming.

When I began working on a son-rise program I was pleasantly surprised by the idea of joining kids in their exclusive state and accepting their stims as a way of building a relationship and getting into their world. For children who seem to live in their own world- exclusive much of the time with a need to engage in repetitive or rigid behaviour- it must be a relief to be accepted and to gently be shown alternative ways of interacting with the world. It would be a relief to any of us, if we were living in a world where the majority of people, including our own family, were so different to us. Through being accepted unconditionally and building relationships in the playroom, the motivation to use language and interact socially becomes intrinsically motivated, or motivated from within, by the expectation that people are appealing and it is enjoyable interacting with them. It is then that children will make strides in becoming socially engaged and communicative because there is a genuine desire to do so.

My take-away message is that all children are individuals with different needs and this should be reflected in flexible and individualised treatments that take personality and disposition into account. The Son-Rise Program is gentle and relaxed while also being highly effective. It is useful for any child but most especially, in my opinion, the child who is often exclusive and may feel isolated and in need of reinforcement that they are accepted exactly as they are.

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Connect, Communicate, Grow

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