Son Risen – Books about Children With Autism

Barry Neil Kaufman’s son Raun was born in 1973, only to be diagnosed with severe autism by the age of one and a half. Refusing to believe the prognosis, the Kaufmans spent hours observing their son, and created their own special program for him long before anyone beyond Lovaas and Bettleheim were making any attempt to teach autistics. Three years later, their son showed no symptoms of autism, not even Aspergers. They named their program the Son-Rise Program, now taught at their foundation, the Autism Treatment Center of America in Sheffield, Mass. You can read their incredible story in Kaufman’s book Son-Rise, or the newer version, Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues, which includes the development of their foundation and follows Raun when he’s older. I warn you, however, the newer version gets a little heavy in the New-Agey/Hippie feel.

To prove that you didn’t need to start with an infant to get results, Kaufman also wrote up his work with a five-year old boy named Robertito, in the book A Miracle to Believe In. Again, Kaufman’s methods produced a child who came back from the depths of Autism to be a happy, intelligent, socially-adjusted verbal child.51ip9t-N0wL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Now Raun Kaufman himself, the director of Global Outreach for the ATCA, has written Autism Breakthrough, a book that details the process the Son-Rise program uses, so you can try it yourself. The basis for the program goes against modern practices – and Kaufman’s explanations make very good sense. In short, autism is a disorder of social-relational behavior; if you can’t fix that, then all the educational training in the world isn’t going to help. The program focuses intensively on connecting with the child by entering their world, and then drawing them out into yours. Once you have social interaction and communication, then education can fall into place easily and logically.

While I am a Kaufman guru – I’ve used many of their methods with a number of “throwaway” kids and made connections like no one else – there are places we’ll have to agree to disagree. Diet is one of them. If your child’s autism is cured by diet, then chances are it wasn’t autism to start with. While organic diets are wholesome and ideal for everyone, I do not recommend “assuming” your child has a difficulty with a food just because someone said so. I do not recommend filling your child with probiotics or supplements unless a doctor has proven there is a serious deficiency. Too much of the wrong thing can be just as bad as a lack of something, and certain vitamins can be toxic in large doses. He doesn’t mention honest-to-goodness physical issues, such as brain disorders, genetic issues (such as Rett’s or Fragile X, often lumped with autism), or seizure disorders. While he does mention that you should not allow your child to do anything unsafe, he makes no attempt to give guidance to parents whose children are severely hyperactive, sleepless, or self-injurious. It’s wonderful, it works, but he glosses over the amount of time it takes to make the program work and have even the most minimal semblance of a life. His own “cure” took a team of people working almost around the clock for more than three years. Most people can’t do that.

On the opposite side of the spectrum (no pun intended), hunt down A Child Called Noah, by Josh Greenfeld. Greenfeld’s son Noah was born in 1966, just a few years before Raun Kaufman. Noah was also born severely autistic, and his story is much more typical. His father, a screenwriter, documented their family struggles through three volumes, and the other year his brother, Karl Greenfeld, wrote Boy Alone: A Brother’s Memoir, on what it’s like to live in the shadow of an autistic sibling. What he chronicles is much more typical of a family with extreme autism. If your child is not or will not be a miracle, the Greenfelds will let you know you are not alone.

Soak yourself in the Kaufman’s program (he does have a chapter just for dealing with Aspergers). Of all the programs out there, this is one I can stand behind, but like everything else, take it with a grain of salt. Critics complain it is not possible to scientifically measure the program, therefore no aspect of it can be considered valid, others complain it is still a gentle teaching/ABA program under a different name; other parents have not seen such miracle results. Nothing is perfect, nothing works all of the time. But in the land of Autism, even a thirty-percent increase in functional ability is a landmark indeed.

    

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Louise Reads: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman, 39 and a professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. His lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not “wired” for romance. Logically, though, he concedes to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner through an exhaustive 16-page survey he has designed to scientifically eliminate all incompatible candidates.

Rosie Jarman would never make it past page one of Don’s survey. A smoking, drinking, disorganized vegetarian, she is completely unsuitable. Yet Don feels somehow compelled to use his expertise in DNA analysis to assist her with a project of her own – identifying her biological father. An unlikely friendship develops between them as they work together on The Father Project.

In The Rosie Project, Don is our narrator, and seeing the story from his point of view is part of the charm of this book. Similar to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night -Time and Silver Linings Playbook, the narrator of this story is wired differently than most people.  To say Don has social difficulties is an understatement.  In an early scene, Don is discussing a lecture he’d recently given at the university:

“Claudia asked whether I’d enjoyed the Asperger’s lecture… [I] told her I had found the subject fascinating. “Did the symptoms remind you of anyone?” she asked.  They certainly did. They were an almost perfect description of Lazlo Hevesi in the Physics department.”
 

Fans of the television series “The Big Bang Theory” may notice some similarities to the character Sheldon Cooper from that show.  For example, in a scene where Don is explaining his scheduled meal system to Rosie after a meeting at a restaurant goes comically awry:

“So you cook this same meal every Tuesday, right?”
“Correct.” I listed the eight major advantages of the Standardized Meal System:
  1. No need to accumulate recipe books.
  2. Standardized shopping list – hence very efficient shopping.
  3. Almost zero waste – nothing in the refrigerator or pantry unless required for one of the recipes.
  4. Diet planned and nutritionally balanced in advance.
  5. No time wasted wondering what to cook.
  6. No mistakes, no unpleasant surprises.
  7. Excellent food, superior to most restaurants at a much lower price (see point 3).
  8. Minimum cognitive load required.

Debut novelist Graeme Simsion has written a warm-hearted, laugh-out-loud funny, and surprisingly poignant story. No huge surprises, The Rosie Project follows many of the tropes that are the stock-in-trade of romantic comedies,  but I was still caught up in the story from the first words and it never lagged or disappointed. A feel-good book that delivered!  Audiobook listeners will enjoy first-time narrator Dan O’Grady’s performance, his Australian accent (the story is set in Melbourne) added an authentic touch.

If you like The Rosie Project, you may also enjoy:

The Big Bang Theory starring Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Jim Parsons, Simon Helberg, and Kunal Nayyar

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon