Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Do you know what happens at your child’s school?

Becky Damgaard
Son-Rise Program® Teacher,
Autism Treatment Center of America®
Do you know what happens at your child’s school?

In order to know whether your child’s current therapies and school environment are a good fit for them, one step you can take is to contact the principal at the school and set up an observation of your child’s day. This will help you gain important information and understand what their day looks like in much more detail than you can gain from reading a teacher's report. I have heard from parents over the years that observations aren’t encouraged, so it often doesn't occur to them to request the opportunity to observe. Know that it is well within your rights to observe your child in school.

Observing your child will help you educate yourself to be able to make the most well-informed decisions when it comes to your child’s various learning environments. Observing your child will help you gain a glimpse into the day to day events her/his current environment provides and will also help you further support and make decisions regarding your child’s development. When you are observing your child, be aware of the following three areas:

1.   Control - How much control does your child seem to get throughout their day? Track the amount of times they are told “no”, how often they are not allowed to do something they want to do and if they are physically manipulated at all.

Creating an environment where your child can more easily trust and relate to people is going to support their social growth and inspire them to want to step outside their comfort zones and take more steps toward social interaction. Your child’s world is already unpredictable. It’s important that we reduce the limits and boundaries imposed upon them and make their interactions more helpful and user-friendly. Our children thrive on predictability and being in control so look for how many transitions there are throughout their day and how they cope with each transition. Also note any unpredictable events that occur during the day.

2. Distractions - How overwhelming and distracting is the school environment? When our children are over-stimulated they tend to need to do their repetitious and exclusive behaviors (isms) more often and need time to recuperate and adjust to the external distractions and sensory overload that is happening. Is the classroom highly distracting with noise and visual stimuli or is it calming and soothing to be in? What happens when they ism? Are they put in a “time out”? Are they stopped from doing their ism or are they re-directed to another activity? We believe that children are taking care of themselves, calming themselves and regulating their sensory processing systems when they ism. Providing them with a quiet space or room they can escape to when they need to ism, will be more supportive than stopping them or judging them for the ism behavior.

3. Socialization - Are your child's attempts at socialization being encouraged or discouraged? Since connecting and relating to people is the core challenge children with autism face, socialization is the primary focus in The Son-Rise Program. Track how often they are making eye contact with others and what happens when they do. Is their eye contact being acknowledged and celebrated? Is there any one-on-one contact where someone can be with your child positioning themselves in front of him/her, really helping them relate to people? Or… is the focus all about them doing academic or self-help tasks? If their eye contact is not being recognized and encouraged to develop, how can they learn to continue to use eye contact as a means of connecting with others? Record how and when they use language to express themselves or to verbally participate. Is your child’s communication welcomed and acknowledged throughout their day? It is important that we really encourage our children to share their language and perceive that their social communication is valuable. When you observe recess and lunch time … is your child approaching other children or vice versa? Is there an adult present to facilitate interaction between peers? As you observe, you want to sit quietly at the back of the classroom and take notes. If your child comes to you and tries to engage with you, sweetly explain you are visiting and won’t be participating with them and lovingly re-direct them back to the task at hand. Sometimes parents will watch from a window of the classroom to minimize distractions.

Taking the step to observe your child means taking a more proactive role and having a greater say in how you want them to spend their time. Certainly, you want your child to thrive and succeed in school, not just to simply scrape by. To thrive and succeed not just in their classes and therapies but throughout out each step of their entire school day.

If you are looking for guidance in this area of your journey with your child, please don't hesitate to contact us and book a consultation package with a Son-Rise Program Teacher

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Does Your Child Tantrum When They Don’t Get What They Want?

Susan Humphries
Son-Rise Program® Teacher 
Autism Treatment Center of America®

Children are so beautiful at expressing themselves in so many ways. One common way children express themselves when they do not get what they want is to tantrum. Even if there is just an inkling of a “no” coming from us. Your child’s protest can have many versions - whining, crying, screaming, wailing, throwing themselves to the floor, slapping or biting, head banging, etc. Why does your child communicate in this way? Because it works! 

Understanding why your child’s crying works:

  • It gets them what they want: Our children use this form of communication because at some point it has gotten them what they wanted. To avoid a full blown tantrum many parents react quickly to avoid it. For example, if your child wants one more cookie, you may say, “No more, you’ve had enough”… until they whine, frown, and you begin to see the tears welling up in their eyes. In quick response you offer a handful of cookies to head off a potential disaster!
    · It moves people: That scream in the grocery store can make any mommy or daddy finish their shopping in record time. This may be your child’s way of saying “no” to the place you have taken him/her to or their way of reacting to people they want to get away from.
    · It gives them a sense of control: Our children need a lot of control in order to cope with a world that they may feel is out of control. By tantruming, not only do they get what they want faster, but they also gain a sense of control over other people. Watch how people respond the next time your child tantrums … they get right out of the way as if there were a swarm of stinging bees in the living room. WOW! People are the most unpredictable factors in our children’s lives. It must give our children a real sense of relief to know that they can make people move away or make people  deliver their wants more quickly.

    Why do we “feed” the tantrum?
    It is all in our attitude:
    We make ourselves uncomfortable -- sad, angry, anxious, guilty, nervous, and more. We torture ourselves with these uncomfortable feeling because of what we believes when we experience our child’s tantrum.

    Here are some common gut wrenching beliefs that parents hold before they complete the training and learn the tools of The Son-Rise Program® :
    · It is my responsibility as a parent to make my child happy.
    · I feel sorry for my child because she/he has special needs.
    · Others will judge me as a bad parent if my child is crying.
    · I don’t want my child to think I don’t love them.
    · It is a problem and I must fix it.
    · The assumption that your child is intensely unhappy when they tantrum and that there is something terribly wrong.

    The new you will know what to do!
    Abandon your old way of thinking and try something new:
    · There is always a reason to reply “no”. Think about it – you say “no” because you care for your child. It is not beneficial for them to eat cookies instead of dinner, watch too much television, run out into the street without clothes, eat the paint off the wall, draw all over their baby sister’s face, (these are all true stories), etc. Limits are acts of love. We all needed limits as children and we all learned from them.

    · Remember tantruming is a form of communication not a statement of great suffering. I have seen a child go from a full drama tantrum to a smile in a split second. NO child has the emotional burdens that we create for ourselves as adults.

    · It’s not a problem it’s an opportunity. Teaching your child how to calmly and easily handle the “no” now will benefit them for the rest of their life. Ultimately, you can teach your child to be calm even if they don’t get what they want. You are supporting a lifetime of happiness for your child when you teach them this belief.

    · Your child’s diagnosis is not a weakness! Feeling sorry for your child will only put your child in the dictator position and they will be ruling your house in no time. View your child as strong and capable of doing the best they can to get what they want. Viewing your child as capable of moving through his/her challenges actually empowers everyone.

    · Loving your child through this time will help you stay calm and be clear with the following actions to take. Believing that there is nothing wrong with you, with your child, or the circumstance will feed your love and comfort.

    Let’s get REAL with it instead of refusing to deal with it !
    Relax- think to yourself one of the thoughts above to support your comfort!

    Explain- Sweetly tell your child the truth as to why you are setting the limit. For example, say, “I love you, sweetie and having another cookie is not good for your body. It’s ok if you want to cry but it will not get you another cookie.

    Act slowly, quietly and be mellow – No need to keep explaining, no need to offer something to stop the crying. Don’t let the tantrum affect your reaction. One sweet explanation is enough and ZERO reaction is the most tangible lesson for your child. Doing this will help your child hear and see that his/her dramatic protest will not move you to change your reply.

    Love your child through the tantrum they have created and brewed for themselves. NOT giving in is the act of love. Be the calm in their storm. If you’re in The Son-Rise Program playroom you can simply play on your own in the corner, blowing bubbles until your child calms themselves down. If you are washing the dishes, hold a feeling of love in your silence. You will be empowered and you will empower your child in the long run.

Friday, August 1, 2014

It’s Summer! Fun summer activities to bring into your Son-Rise Program Playroom

Have fun bringing the beauty of summer into your Son-Rise Program Playroom at home!

Bring the beach to your child:
  • Have fun gathering lots of various beach items: a beach ball, plastic buckets and shovels, beach chairs, an umbrella, some shells, beach towels, sunglasses, a boogie board, hats, and … anything else you enjoy bringing to the beach with you!
  • Set up your playroom the night before (while your child is not in the playroom) to make it look just like the beach. Then when your child walks into the room the next morning exclaim, "Wow! We get to have a day at the beach!"
  • Then spend the day playing with your new playroom items:
    • Throw the beach ball back and forth over a line of tape on the floor for a fun game of volleyball!
    • Use the buckets and shovels to create a pretend sandcastle. Use the beach chairs and umbrella as a fun reading nook in your playroom, or turn the umbrella upside down and spin it for your child as they watch you entertain them.
    • Try hiding the sea shells around the room and going on a scavenger hunt to find them. Place the beach towel on the ground and offer to give your child beach towel rides.
    • Pop the lenses out of a pair of sunglasses (so your child can see your eyes) and put them on your face as a tool to help your child look into your eyes- you can even put stickers of your child’s favorite animal all over the glasses and when you put the glasses on, you become that animal!
    • If your child has Higher Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome then they might really love hearing some fun facts about the ocean or beach.
    • You could bring in pictures of yourself at the beach and encourage your child to show an interest in events that have happened in your own life while at the beach.
    • Try bringing in pictures of magazine cut outs of various beaches, or beach related items - and have fun creating your own “perfect” beach oasis!
... The possibilities are endless!!! Have fun bringing the beach to your own playroom!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Want Your Child to be More Flexible? Yes!

  • He always wants to wear the same t-shirt
  • She always has to have the same book read to her at bedtime
  • He always has to be the first person out the front door
  • She always eats the same food for breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • The interactive game we play always has to be done a specific way
  • He has to be the first person to press the button at all the pedestrian crossing points on the road when we go for a walk – if someone else has done it before him you have to wait, not crossing the road, until it is ready to be pushed again, by your son!
FLEXIBILITY is such vital part of interacting with others and a quality that is essential to handling daily life. It is one of those qualities that your child on the autism spectrum could have much more of. It’s also a quality we could also have more of ?, but that’s a discussion for another time. For your child the ability to vary their routine, to handle unpredictable changes in their schedule, to participate in something new and different, and to move with ease as all the small and big changes occur in their day to day life, is a challenge to the very nature of how they cope and make it through their day. No matter where your child is on the autism spectrum, from severe to high functioning autism / Aspergers, they have a challenge processing and handling the stimulus that the world constantly presents them. Bottom-line our children can be controlling and rigid (the opposite of flexible) because this creates a predictable and safe way for them to move through there day. They are doing the best they can to take care of themselves.

For those of you who have been to The Son-Rise Program® Start-Up or our advanced training programs, The Son-Rise Program® Maximum Impact or The Son-Rise Program® New Frontiers, you will have learned all the techniques to help your child grow to be more socially successful, which includes developing greater flexibility. Below are a number of items to review to ensure you are still on track with your Son-Rise Program®, which in turn will help with your child be less controlling and rigid and ultimately more flexible.

  • Son-Rise Program Playroom -- Focus room time:
    Make sure your child is being worked with in their play/focus room on a daily basis. This is the one place on the planet where they will have 99% control of what is happening. Your child has control over you, over the sounds, movement etc. In school, at home, in the playground there are always unpredictable and uncontrollable events happening; noises, physical movements of others and objects etc. that your child is working hard to process. For them it is like shopping at the mall all day during the Christmas holidays!! The playroom gives your child a time in their day when they can experience having control, where they can continue to learn to process what the world is presenting to them. A child who can process more of what the world is presenting to them and has a great feeling of being in control will be more flexible.

  • Your Attitude:
    Be an example of the very quality you want to help your child develop – FLEXIBILITY. Think about a recurring situation with your child where you get stuck on the outcome going your way. How can you be more relaxed and easy? As you pursue what you want with your child, imagine enjoying yourself, this is an important part of being flexible. Even if you do not get the outcome you want, be relaxed (you can always try again later or tomorrow). This is FLEXIBILITY IN ACTION and will be an inspirational model of FLEXIBILITY for your child.

  • The Son-Rise Program Techniques
    • JOIN: When your child “isms” (stims) they do so to create an internal sense of control and predictability in the world around them that they do not fully understand. Their “ism” also helps them block out the other stimulus that is bombarding their senses. When we join our child it gives them the message that we accept who they are and understand they are doing the best they can. We give them the space to recharge and regenerate, we give them the message that they are in control and that we will wait for them to show us when they are ready to come be with us. The more a child feels they have control – the less controlling they will be (this is no different than how we are!). Join your child with full delight and acceptance. Do not interrupt; wait for those clear “green lights” before building and inviting your child to interact with you.

    • CELEBRATE: Celebration of your child is essentially a blast of love and delight for who they are in that moment. Your celebration is a communication of acceptance and appreciation that will help your child feel more embraced, which in turn will help them be less controlling and more flexible. Don’t be stingy with your celebrations and remember to be sincere as you express your gratitude and appreciation for what your child is doing.
    • USER-FRIENDLY: If your child feels that people are inflexible and difficult to be with, then you become part of that world that overwhelms them that they don’t fully understand. Whenever we have an opportunity to help our children get what they want, especially when they are in a controlling and rigid mode, then we want to do so with speed and delight, letting our child know that we love helping them.

    • NOTE: Remember we said we will give them 99% control and you will maintain 1% control. For example, you may stop your child from throwing objects down the toilet, or running out the front door in winter without shoes. The 1% control you maintain is to take care of your child’s well-being, and the well-being of your home. When you are working in the playroom, and giving so much control, it’s then much easier for your child to handle the other, more rare, cases in which you have to set a boundary.
  • For the next month add these elements to how you interact with your child. Do it in your playroom and around the house. If you are already doing these elements then see where you can do it even more. Additionally look for situations where you consistently get into control battles with your child. Instead of expecting your child to change, think about what you can do to reduce or prevent these situations from happening.

    Have the best time helping your child be more FLEXIBLE!
    With much love and smiles,
    William Hogan

    Executive Director of Programs & Son-Rise Program Teacher and Group Facilitator

    Monday, June 2, 2014

    Relationships With People Versus Relationships With Screens

    Susan Humphries
    Son-Rise Program® Teacher, 
    Autism Treatment Center of America®
    Relationships With People
    Versus Relationships With Screens

    Have you noticed that screened media is everywhere you look these days?  There are TV’s in our living rooms, cars, and grocery stores too.  Televisions, computers, smart phones, video game devices all fall under the pervasive screen team. We know that you want to support your children in the development of having joy filled relationships versus spending thousands of hours isolating themselves behind those captivating screens.   One significant way to do this is to remove all electronic devices or screen media.  The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children under the age of six spend an average of 32 hours a week watching screened media. This number increases as our children get older, with an average of 49 hours a week for our 8 to 18 year olds.
    Here are some common reasons we hear from parents as to why they let their children spend so much time with devices:
    ·         “It is a babysitter.”- Probably one of the most common reasons I hear from parents why they use devices is to babysit their children when they need to tend to their busy lives.   When the device is removed your child will find other interests to gravitate towards.   Create an area that you can easily see and hear your child and  that is safe for your child to be in.  Bring into this safe place fun toys that your child may be interested in, such as their favorite items to ism with and other objects of interest. Many of our children who are high functioning tend to spend their screen time with video games or their favorite shows or movies. Consider gathering books, board games, coloring books, figurines and other items that are connected to their media interest.   Solo play actually helps our children with developing creativity, problem solving, and motor planning.
    ·         “We use it as a reward to good behavior.”- Children on the spectrum already have a phenomenal tendency to become fixated in a repetitious way on things that are compelling. Often times this leads to screen time being one of their biggest motivations. It is not uncommon for people to use screen media as a reward when teaching; such as sitting through meal time, potty training, learning a new skill, etc.  In The Son–Rise Program® we use motivations that we, ourselves, deliver and celebrations as a reward.  This way we are encouraging relationships and understanding vs. prompt-reward dependency.

    ·          “My apps have taught my children the ABC’s and 1, 2, 3’s.”- Screen devices go against the very skills that we teach in The Son-Rise Program … SOCIALIZATION.

    ·         Language development: Do not be deceived that the lines your child says over and over again from their favorite show is a form of language.  We want to encourage communicative language.  There have been many studies revealing that the less screen time a child has and the more time they have with people the better their understanding and use of language.  Also, there is a direct link between the more children watch screened devices and the greater chance for them to have language delays. TV, the computer, smart phones, video games will never respond to your child. It is one sided. The more responding we do to our children’s sounds, words, gestures the more it reinforces for them to use it.

    ·         Attention Span: Many of you have noticed that your child can attend to watching TV or playing on a screen for a long period of time but their attention is fleeting when being with or playing with people. Screen media is actually hypnotic- habit forming and addictive. The audio and visual stimulation is EXTREME. Research suggests that the intense sensory stimulation from video causes our brains to release dopamine.   When dopamine is produced it switches on the pleasure and reward center in our brains.  To put it into perspective, the same places are switched on with alcohol and cocaine use.   There is no way that you can be as compelling as Pokémon, Sponge Bob, Zelda Universe, etc.  This is one reason it is challenging for us to compete with screens when trying to create interaction.  Also, because it is hypnotic in nature it will feed your child’s exclusivity.

    ·         “It is what we do as a family” :  Families with special children find that watching TV is the only thing their family does together. Sitting on the couch with the family can seem like a typical family interaction.  The reality is there is no interaction and it is just a group of people being exclusive, together.

    Useful tips when removing the devices:
    ·         Lock up your devices when you are not using them. We see many of our children become highly exclusive and controlling around screen watching.   I have seen children climb to the tops of a fridge to get to their parents’ smart phone.  Our children are so clever and often figure out your pass code. “Out of site out of mind,” is the most helpful.  
    ·         If you are not ready to recycle your Plasma screen TV, many families simply unplug their them or move their mini theaters into another room that can be locked.
    ·         If your child asks for it: No matter what your child’s level of language ability is explain to them why it is not around.  For example, “We are so excited that we get to spend more quality time together! We are not going to watch T.V (play on the computer, etc.)because it is so distracting and takes away our SPECIAL time  together.”
    ·         As mentioned above, create a safe place your child can occupy themselves when you are tending to other things.

    Most importantly run your Son–Rise Program.  Those captivating screens will never help your child grow as much as quality time with a loving, joyful and enthusiastic person in a non-distracting environment.

    Thursday, May 1, 2014


    Becky Damgaard
    Son-Rise Program® Teacher,
    Autism Treatment Center of America®
    Being Creative in The Son-Rise Program Playroom

    definition: the ability to make new things or think of new ideas

    As I work with children with autism and their families, one of the most common beliefs I hear from parents, volunteers, family members and professionals is some version of “I’m not creative”. If being creative is as defined “the ability to make new things or think of new ideas” then we were born creative!

    If you take time to observe an infant, they are making new things happen and thinking of new ideas all the time. They make a funny, raspberry noise, giggle for the first time, discover their fingers, shake a toy and then throw it, etc. If you watch a toddler, they use their imagination and what they have observed to create new ideas. I have been reading a book to my two year old called The Napping House ... in the story, a granny sleeps on bed and a child sleeps on the granny and the dog sleeps on the child and the cat sleeps on the dog, the mouse sleeps on the cat and the flea sleeps on the mouse. I was aware of her taking Tupperware lids, placing magnetic animals on top of the lids and then layering them up in a tower. I wasn't really paying too much attention to what she was doing because I was busy in the kitchen but then I heard her say "Where everyone is sleeping!" which was one of the lines to the story. She was re-creating the story with the lids and characters. She was being creative! Thinking of a new idea based on someone else's idea, in this case the author of the book’s.

    Some people believe that creativity is overrated and that it is complicated or hard to achieve. This is not necessarily so! If you add fresh herbs to what you are cooking, you are creative! If you put together separate items of clothes you have never worn together before, you are creative! If you imagine what a scene or a character looks like in a book you are reading, you are creative! Being creative starts with simplifying and taking creativity off the pedestal of being complicated and hard to achieve.

    Here are some ways to think about and practice being creative!
    1. Believe you are creative! That being creative is fun and easy! That holding the “I am creative” perspective will allow me to be more dynamic and attractive to my child with autism and inspire them to step out of their comfort zone and connect more deeply to the people in their lives.

    1. Practice adding one new thing to everyday activities. Add a new ingredient to the next meal you prepare or cook an old favorite in a different way. Next time you hear your favorite song, make a up a new dance move or add some backing vocals or use your voice or body as a make-believe instrument to play along.
    1. Bring creativity to The Son-Rise Program playroom! The next three times your child looks at you, do a new action you have never done before! Next time you sing them their favorite song try singing it with a different accent or adding some new words. The next time you bring them something from the shelf, bring it down to them in a new way each time.
    1. Quick and simple is more important than sophisticated and innovative. The window of time you have to entertain your child may be limited due to their short attention span and propensity to be involved in their own world more than they are interacting with you.
    1. Bring fun activities to your next team meeting. If you are having a challenge being creative then the chances are that the other people who work with your child are too. Play a couple of games where you can spontaneously react and think on your feet. For example, try playing charades, or doing something completely new with a prop you’ve pulled out of a bag. Play an extra round of the game where you are not allowed to do anything “literal” with the prop … i.e. if you pull out a wooden spoon from the prop bag, don’t again pretend to stir soup but rather use it as a guitar or a hair brush.


    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

    Hope: The Key to it All

    I have been working with families with children with autism here at the Autism Treatment Center of America for over 23 years using The Son-Rise Program® principles.  In those years I have been blessed to have such profoundly beautiful experiences with the families and children that I have worked with.  I wanted to share with you a recent experience I have had with a family that I have just come to know.

    This mother, and her son, have a great message of hope to share with you:
    I met a mother named Sarah at our Son-Rise Program Start-Up program in August of 2013.  She was a focused and engaged participant who was determined to help her 23 year old son John.   She told me this was the first time she had ever been told that she was in fact capable of and could help her son.  She had never thought that she, his mother, had enough power or knowledge or ability to be the one to make a difference in John’s life.

    Two months later, during our first Son-Rise Program consultation she told me her incredible story:
    Upon returning home she took four weeks off from her job and worked with John eight hours per day, seven days per week.  She brought all of her passion and love and put into practice the techniques that she had learned in the training program.   John, who had only ever said, “I want popcorn” and “I want pizza” had begun to talk.  I mean, really talk.  He could answer any question she asked, give his thoughts on any topic, he could read and do PHD level math.  He could explain his experience, his feelings, and his dreams for himself.  It was as if she had ‘unlocked’ his world, and he had let her in.  She was completely in a state of joyous shock!  She told me, “I cannot believe this is happening.   For the last 20 years I never thought that I could help my son.  I never knew that all of this was possible.  I cannot believe that after 23 years I can talk to my son.  This is the greatest experience of my life. “

    Some snapshots of her experience:
    • One day her son started to cry at the table (which was very unusual) and she asked him why he was crying and he replied, “Because I can talk now”.
    • When she asked John what he wanted to do with his life he replied, “I want to be a mathematician”. When she asked him where he would like to work he told her: “NASA” (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
    • In her excitement to discover all that her son is capable of, one day she asked him if he knew how to type and asked if he wanted to type on the computer.  To her amazement, he can type!  He took his finger and typed out these words:
      • “I can talk now.  My feeling is wonderful.  Mommy helped.”
    All of this began with one very determined mother who had hope.   Hope is the fire that ignited the human spirit.  Hope is what gets us out of bed in the morning.  Hope is the foundation of The Son-Rise Program.   You are no different than Sarah.  You love your child.  That love is a powerful force and Hope is its vehicle.

    Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.”
    Martin Luther

    Monday, March 3, 2014

    4 Ways to Grow Your Child’s Interactive Attention Span

    At The Autism Treatment Center of America, when we talk about interactive attention span, we’re referring to the times when a child turns his/her focus on us.  Whether a child is looking or talking to us, or waiting on our participation, we cherish and love when this happens. 

    However fleeting, we’ve all experienced times like this with our children.  Whether it’s tickling, giving piggy back rides, playing Hide 'N Seek, or singing a song, this valuable time together gives our child an opportunity to practice their interactive attention span. And the more social connection we have with them, the more it helps our children socialize with others – including their neurotypical peers. 

    These four principles will help you identify and lengthen your child’s interactive attention span:

    1.     Everything and anything can become a game. It’s not about the activity or the game you’re playing, but how you and your child interact with each other. Whether it’s a made up game like counting freckles on each other’s arms or jumping over LEGO® blocks, when your child is “lit” up, and their eyes are bright and smiling, they are expressing interest in what is happening, and showing an interest in YOU. This is the goal of the game and the interaction that you want to foster and lengthen. The important result is that your child is motivated by this activity, and that the activity includes YOU. Often people miss this type of opportunity to expand an interaction because they think it has to look like a traditional children’s game.

    2.     Notice what your child likes and do more of that! When you find yourself in a game with your child, make note of the particular part of the game they enjoy the most. Do they especially like action, e.g. watching the way a scarf floats through the air, or the way the scarf feels as it falls onto their face? Or perhaps they love what you do in the game, such as the anticipation you create before throwing the scarf up into the air, or the way you stomp your feet as the scarf lands. Once you discover what they enjoy, emphasize that part of the game. It not only adds to the fun, but it also encourages your child to engage longer in the interaction with you.

    3.     Lengthen our attention span!  Let’s look at our own (often short) attention span and beliefs about our children. I have witnessed parents and caretakers introduce twelve different games within a 15-minute session. This usually stems from a variety of things. For example, when our child stops playing a game and opts for an ism, I often hear the following:
    ·        “My child was bored with the game.”
    ·        “My child no longer wanted to play the game.”
    ·        “He does not like this game.”
    ·         “I wasn’t exciting enough, so he didn’t want to continue playing with me.”

    In The Son-Rise Program®, we have a different perspective as to why our children may leave a game to ism. We believe that it does not necessarily mean that our child doesn’t want to continue playing the game, but that they need to break and ism for a while in order to refocus.  The ism actually helps them get to a place where they are able to interact with you more while playing the game. It’s with this understanding that we suggest joining in with our children as they ism. Once they reconnect by giving us a “green light” (i.e. a prompt where your child either looks at you, talks to you or touches you) we will introduce the same game we were playing before they decided to ism. This gives them the opportunity to continue the game and lengthen their attention span. It also gives your child other social opportunities (e.g. - verbal communication or physical participation) during one particular activity. For example, if you asked your child to say the word “throw” within a ball game, by reintroducing the same activity, you offer your child another opportunity to learn the word. We may have the chance to bring back the same game five times in a one-hour session. Of course, if they clearly show us that they are interested in another game, we’d simply play that one. However, if you initiated a new game, and they enjoyed it, after they ism, bring back the game you were just playing. 

    4.     Call your child back to the game!  You can do this by simply asking your child to stay in the game. You could say something like, “I can give you another swing –the biggest swing yet – if you come over here again.” Or “There are more scarves to throw into the air, come and see.” Ask them to come back to play twice, if they don’t respond, then either join them in another game of their choice, or in their ism. By using this technique, many children we work with stay a little longer. Give it a go! You have nothing to lose by asking.

    When you passionately join your child’s repetitive behaviors, maybe by lining up cars, running to and from a wall, or reciting a line from Star Wars,  you not only help build their attention span, but you also cherish the very things that make them unique.

    Wednesday, January 29, 2014

    Let’s Encourage Our Children to Express Their Beautiful Voices

    I remember many things from when my wife Bryn and I ran our Son-Rise Program® with Jade, our daughter. I remember the way Jade would ism (stem) for hours as she played with LEGO’s, using them to build endless staircases. And I remember our rough and tumble physical interactions, and hearing her laugh as I spun her around in my arms. In those moments of fun, I recall seeing her eyes sparkle as she looked at me, fleetingly. I also remember how just listening to her wonderful and amazing voice made me happy. Over the duration of Jade’s Son-Rise Program, the approach we took to helping improve her speech, from one word to sentences to conversations -- always contained the same key elements.
    This approach is the same one we share in all our Son-Rise Program training courses, and I’d like to share the basics with you now. For those of you who attended The Son-Rise Program Start-Up or The Son-Rise Program Essentials training this will serve as an important reminder of the key elements needed to inspire your child to improve his/her verbal communication. For those of you who haven’t attended either program, I hope you find these insights valuable. Our belief is simple: the more you listen to your child’s beautiful voice, the more you’ll find motivation to help them take their verbal communication skills to the next level.
    Here are a few important perspectives you’ll find helpful in developing your child’s verbal communication. First, don’t approach your child with the attitude that you’re somehow going to make him/her talk.  This isn’t a battle. Instead, try an internal dialogue that goes something like this, “I want to encourage, inspire and passionately invite my child to verbally communicate so that they can create more of what they want in their life. I want to help them get their needs met and create meaningful relationships and friendships. I want to hear his/her beautiful voice.” Remember, a talking child does not equate to a non-autistic child. In The Son-Rise Program, our first focus is to establish a fun, interactive relationship. Afterwards, we can help them use language to enhance and deepen all their interactions.
    Here are seven steps to help improve your child’s verbal communication:
    1.       Be clear on exactly how you want to help.
    Are you working on clear single words, two-word phrases, conversation loops, flexibility of the conversation topic, etc.? Before working with your child look at The Son-Rise Program Developmental Model select a Language goal for your child. Review your Son-Rise Program Start-Up manuals – especially the Developmental Model and the Creating Social Curriculum section. These will provide guidance on how to best choose your language goal, as well as other aspirations for your child.
    2.       Create fun and interesting interactive activities with your child.
    Before focusing on your goal, make sure that you and your child are involved in an engaging interactive activity together (e.g. blowing bubbles, tickles, building with blocks, singing songs, conversation, etc).  Once you and your child are having fun playing interactively, introduce your goal by adding your request into the game. It’ll be much more enjoyable for your child and increase the likelihood that he/she will respond favorably. (NOTE: If your child is highly verbal and is being very controlling, then it’s best to wait on your request and find a time when they seem more flexible. The objective is to have fun together and then make your request.)

    3.       Play the game for a few cycles.
    Don’t rush or be quick to ask your child to work on the language goal you’ve set. Again, remember to prioritize the social interaction first and then work on the goal. Make the beginning of the activity fun and easy for your child, so they enjoy being social with you. Once you’ve completed the activity for 3-4 cycles, (e.g. blow bubbles 3-4 times; build the LEGO structure for 2-3 minutes; enjoy the topic of conversation your child is sharing, etc. until there is space for you to add and expand the conversation) move on to the next step.
    4.       Stop and request.
    Once both you and your child are enjoying the interactive game, stop (or pause) the activity and request your language goal. Make your ‘ask’ enthusiastic! When your child begins to speak, show excitement about hearing their voice. If you believe in your child’s ability to grow in the way you’re requesting, your exuberance will come from a genuine place.
    5.       Wait.
    Give your child a chance to respond. Wait a minute, if they don’t begin talking. Don’t restart the interactive activity too quickly before allowing your child to respond. Give them a chance to process your request and then to respond. Find a balance between waiting and keeping the game going, and stay positive!  
    6.       Celebrate and keep the activity going.
    If your child responds in any way to your request, let out a big cheer and quickly give them what they want. Do this while continuing to create a fun and interesting interaction. After a few more cycles of the activity, stop and request again (Step 4, above). Repeat this process for as long as the game continues.
    If your child doesn’t respond and appears to be losing motivation, restart the activity and continue to engage them in interactive play. After a few more play cycles, stop and request again. (Step 4, above)
    7.       Be persistent.
    The Son-Rise Program requires persistence! It’s important that you stay strong, passionate, at ease, and comfortable even if you don’t receive what you desire at the moment. At all costs, avoid pushy or passive behavior. You will want to remain lovingly persistent. Do not give up!
    You may need to request something many times before your child responds to what you’re asking. Be determined. Even when your child doesn’t respond to a request, please know that you’re laying a foundation for future success, or with the next person who interacts with them.
    Enjoy listening to your child’s current sounds, words and sentences. Make it a habit to encourage them to use their voice more frequently when interacting with others as well. It’s my wish that these seven steps help grow your child’s verbal communication skills, and opens the door to deeper, more rewarding connections.
    With love,


    Monday, January 6, 2014

    Trends for 2014

    Bryn N. Hogan
    Executive Director of Autism Treatment Center of America®

    This year, there are exciting Son-Rise Program trends! Here’s what’s ‘in’ for 2014:

    • The Color Red!
      Use the color red to brighten your playroom and bring a flash of fun to your next activity. If you’re working on eating with utensils, try red forks, red plates, and red cups! If you’re focusing on language skills, cut out words in big red letters. If your goal is turn taking, throw on a big red hat whenever it’s your turn. Just this little splash of color can make something old brand new!
    • Indirect Requesting:
      We can request by bringing great energy to our face, our body and our voice. Shake up your typical go-to request mode with indirect requesting. In The Son-Rise Program variation is vital, so try requesting in a different way. Ask your child, in a simple, off-hand way, to say a word or sentence. Suggest a new activity in your every day voice for a change. For physical participation, ask your child to hand something to you, as you would when at the dinner table, reaching for a plate. Use this indirect method to switch-up the way you invite your child to grow and keep your playroom experience fresh.
    • Men, Put on a Pink Hat:
      "Real men aren’t afraid to"... bring a splash of color and playfulness to their child’s playroom! Do something unexpected by wearing a dress, an orange scarf or a big, floppy, yellow hat from the dress up box. By coming to your Son-Rise Program Playroom session with a new flare and presenting yourself in a surprising way, you will excite your child, and invite them to take a second (or third!) look. Ladies, feel free to join in the trend by painting a mustache on your face the next time you go into the room … Mixing
    • Eye Contact Face Jewelry
      In 2014, the eyes have it! We always want our children to look at us as much as possible, so let's bring even more attention to our eyes by dressing them up too. Most pharmacies (and certainly online) have 'eye jewelry' that can be easily affixed to your skin. These fun, playful jewels help our child more easily focus their attention directly to our eyes, connecting with us more fully.
    Anybody, who’s anybody – and the hippest, most trendy Son-Rise Program parents will be…
    • Planning to come back to the Autism Treatment Center of America! As you look at your calendar this year, be sure to include more training and guidance in your plans.   So many of you have become family to us.  The times that we have shared here together have been filled with sweetness, laughter, and deep sharing.  We would love to give you new ideas, and offer additional support so you feel empowered and strong in your program.  Although it always feels as if we’re holding hands with you across the miles, we invite you to return to your home away from home sometime soon. 

    Wishing you so much joy in this New Year,


    Wednesday, December 4, 2013

    You Can Grow Your Child’s Brain

    Susan Humphries, Son-Rise Program Teacher
    As a Son-Rise Program Intensive Teacher, I have the honor of working with a different family each week at the Autism Treatment Center of America®.  Hundreds of families worldwide have shared their child’s story with me from the moment of diagnosis onward.  Even though these families come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, their child’s autism prognosis is similar. 
    If you’ve heard these prognosis-related comments from professionals, families and friends, you’re not alone! 
    • Your child will never speak.
    • Your child will never feel or express emotion.
    • Your child will never have friends.
    • Your child will not know the difference between you and a stranger.
    • Your child will not be cured of autism, it’s a life-long disorder.
    • Your child will never be “normal.”
    • Your child will be better off institutionalized, so you can focus on your other children.
    These statements are simply other people’s beliefs.  Prognosis, by definition, is a prediction of how a future outcome may develop. The real question is: what do you believe about your child’s prognosis? 
    Imagine if no one believed you could walk as a child. Or if your parent’s never held you up to stand.  What if no one believed you’d ever be able to read? Would anyone have given you a book?  What if no one believed you could speak? Would anyone have listened to you?
    In The Son-Rise Program®, we have firsthand experience of children passionately defying all types of restricting and limiting beliefs.  Why? Because loved ones who believe in a future filled with hope and possibility, offer them opportunities! It’s what we believe about our children that determines what we offer them.  Here are a few encouraging studies and beliefs that will give you hope about your child’s future. 

    1. Believe in limitless possibilities for your child’s future growth!   We will only offer the opportunity for our children to grow if we believe it is possible. 
    • Not long ago, it was believed that the brain stopped developing after early childhood. There’s exciting research in neuroscience that suggests the brain keeps growing. Our brains are elastic not static! The Wikipedia Article titled Neuroplasiticity states, “During most of the 20th century, the consensus among neuroscientists was that brain structure is relatively immutable after a critical period during early childhood. This belief has been challenged by findings revealing that many aspects of the brain remain plastic even into adulthood.”
    • Our brains change in response to our experiences. In the journal NACD, the article, Neurodevelopment Perspectives on Autism and Asperger's Syndrome by Robert J. Doman Jr. states, “Specific auditory, visual, and tactile input stimulates the brain and triggers neuro-growth that physically changes the brain and its function.”
    These findings tell us that our children have flexibility baked into their DNA and that they are influenced by sensory exposure. In other words, whatever you focus on with your child will grow his/her brain.  The Son-Rise Program® principles are ideal tools to foster growth in your child.

    2.  Create an environment that helps your child focus. Remember, the brain responds to input.  The Son-Rise Playroom is an environment set up to encourage play, interaction, and learning without over stimulating your child’s senses.  At a playground, you have no control over the environment, which is often busy and full of distractions, and other people’s judgments of your child. 

    3.  Stimulate the brain with play.  When you’re playing with your child and he/she is motivated, which is the optimal time for growth, request one of the Four Fundamentals: Eye Contact, Communication, Interactive Attention Span and Flexibility. For example, simply ask your child to look at you when you’re in the middle of a game. This moment will excite and stimulate your child’s nervous system, and help them grow!

    4. Celebrate what your child does. Every celebration stimulates billions of cells, creating and strengthening neural pathways. It stimulates your cells, too. Plus, when you celebrate your child, you’re giving them, and yourself, a gift of love.

    5.  Join your child’s exclusive and repetitious behaviorsAs your child grows, self-imposed, exclusive breaks are an important part of their learning process.  A study from New York University shows that the brain learns more effectively when it has periods of “wake rest.” This resting state helps the mind focus and retain what we’ve just learned. Son-Rise Program Child Facilitators have witnessed many children learn a new skill after being exclusive for some time.
    Remember that believing in your child’s limitless potential influences what you offer them, and helps grow their brain!  I hope you have fun inspiring your child to grow those billions and billions of brilliant neural pathways, and showering your love upon them!

    Thursday, October 31, 2013

    Today is a Gift! That’s Why it’s Called the Present

    How present are you? Are you truly living in the moment? Or are you off somewhere else? Your mind may wander to a past event, get lost in a daydream, or shift from one thought to another without any real focus. Remaining present is an integral part of The Son-Rise Program and something many of us struggle with – including me. Over the past 14 years of practicing and teaching The Son-Rise Program, I‘ve worked very hard on this. I’ve learned that being present on a consistent basis is an ongoing process that requires both intention and action. When your attention isn’t focused on staying in the moment with your child, you may miss opportunities like his/her attempt to communicate or engage you in play. Here are some of the ways our thinking steals our joy, and causes us to miss out on important moments:
    • Regretting choices you’ve made concerning your children
    • Worrying about your child’s progress and whether you’re doing enough to help them
    • Stressing about your children’s future
    • Making comparisons about your child’s progress
    • Feeling uncomfortable about something your child is doing or not doing
    • Avoiding repetitious questions and things, i.e., reading the same book for the 100th time
    • Thinking about our to-do lists, work projects, or the next step of play while interacting/joining our children in their repetitious and exclusive activities

    Here are five ways you can become more focused on "now"
    1. Intention!  Know and trust that being present does not mean you will never dream, plan, or set goals for the future. It simply means that when you’re with your child, the goal is to stay attentive and remain in the moment.  You can focus on your tasks at a later time.  Right now, join them, celebrate them, entertain them, and then when you get the cue make your request. Remember it’s important to take time with each step, be attentive and hone in on their cues. 

    2. Practice makes perfect!  When you’re completely in the moment during your daily tasks, you’ll get better at staying present with your child.  Try making a cup of tea without thinking about anything else but what you’re doing, or listening to a friend without forming opinions or problem solving in your head.  While driving your car to the store, instead of running through your shopping list, notice how the wheel feels in your hand, listen to the sound of the engine, and pay attention to how the road looks in front of you. 

    3. Be aware of the times when you find yourself drifting.  You may notice a pattern. Perhaps you zone out when your child does their exclusive and repetitious activity (what we refer to as an “ism”), or when your mother-in-law starts complaining about something, etc.
    4. Accept yourself.  When you catch yourself lost in thought, take note of it and say, “I’m doing the best I can” and gently bring yourself back to the here and now. 

    5. Try to understand yourself.  Because we often have a lot on our plate, it’s easy to prioritize other things over being present.  When we’re in this place, it’s the perfect time to ask, “Is this really more important than staying in the moment with my child?”  If not, let it go without judging yourself. 

    When children on the
    Autism Spectrum do things they love (i.e. exclusive and repetitious activity), they are incredibly present and focused. Nothing else matters.  They can become so involved and engaged with a certain topic of conversation that they simply do not allow anything else in.  Because they are masters of being present, we can learn a great deal from them.

    When we follow these steps and are fully awake and present, we have the opportunity to connect more deeply to our children, and engage them in a more meaningful way. At the same time, you’re making it easier for them to bond with you.
    Children challenged by Autism are adept at decoding our attitudes and our level of openness towards them. So if we can stay in the moment during our time together, we’ll be a magnet to them.  In essence, you’re showing them just how wonderful and useful it is to be with people.  By remaining present, you’ll not only see their beauty and uniqueness in a brand new way, you’ll continue to discover more ways to help them grow. 

    Tuesday, October 1, 2013

    The Benefits of Celebrating Your Child

    Celebrating your child on the Autism Spectrum each time they interact with you is an extremely effective Son-Rise Program® technique. After more than 25 years of working with children on the Autism Spectrum I would say that sincerely, warmly and enthusiastically celebrating a child’s attempts at interacting with us, IS one of the most powerful and impactful techniques we have not only to support the child’s development but also to enrich your own life.
    Imagine if you realized that the technique of celebrating was one of the most powerful tools you have to help your child .  How would that change the way you celebrated your child? My guess is that your celebration would become more passionate and sincere. My guess is that you would increase the intensity and amount you celebrated your child. This change would enrich your child’s life and help them grow profoundly, but perhaps more importantly it will change and enrich your life as well. How?
    For Your Child:
    1.    They will grow. Your celebration shows your child on the Autism Spectrum that people are inviting, warm and fun to play with. As you  celebrate them for looking at you , talking to you, and interacting you are highlighting what you want them to do more of. Your child will develop in the areas you most pay attention to. Celebrate the areas where you want your child to grow, which for us at The Autism Treatment Center of America is social interaction. When you celebrate your child you are creating an environment of success and warmth … the ideal environment to foster growth.
    For You:
    2.    It will change how you see your child. Imagine if you celebrated your child every time they looked at you … every time they put their hand in yours. Imagine if you celebrated each time they responded to your request … spoke to you or made a vocalization. Yes that means you would be spending a lot of time celebrating.  But if you really did this you would be appreciating and SEEING all the times that your child is giving you what you want. Often we are so preoccupied in seeing what our child is not doing and focusing on encouraging them to do something that we may actually miss a lot of what they have already accomplished. Changing how you view celebrating will change this.
    1.    The more you celebrate the better you will feel. There is no doubt about it … sincerely celebrating feels great! The more you celebrate the more you will see that not only is your child succeeding but also that you are too! This can translate into having more energy and hope for you and your child’s future.
    2.    Celebrating will grow your ability to “be present”  and “to be grateful”. Barry Neil Kaufman (Co-founder of the Autism Treatment Center of  America and The Son-Rise Program) in his book, Happiness is a Choice, calls these two skills “short cuts to happiness”. By celebrating our children we are growing our muscle to choose happiness and comfort in our lives. When we are focusing on being grateful it is hard to be unhappy. Being happier feels good and will translate again and again into more energy to help your child. The more present you can be with your child the more you will grow your understanding of your child and how they operate.
    3.    Grow your celebration of yourself and others in your life. As you practice the art of celebration with your child, it will spill over into other areas of your life. As you celebrate the other people in your life they in turn will tend to be warmer and sweeter to you. As you celebrate you will also become a model to your child and others in how to see and respond to the world.

    Some of you might say,  “well my child does not like it when I celebrate … they move away from me or put their hand over my mouth, or in some cases my even tell me to stop”. If this is the case we don’t stop celebrating, instead find a different way.

    • Celebrate them quietly versus loudly. 
    • Respond first to what they are asking and then celebrate.
    • Wait until your child has finished having a conversation with you, or playing a game with you, or looking at you and then celebrate the wonderful interaction you have just had.
    • Make sure that your celebrations are age appropriate … take this into consideration especially if your child is older. What form of celebration would they like?
    • Celebrate silently with your facial expressions and arm movements instead of always celebrating verbally
    • Vary the way you are celebrating – are you stuck in a loop of always celebrating in the same way; this can get “old” or lose its effectiveness for your child.

    Celebrations are like water and sun are to a plant … they are the food that nourishes our growth and attitude.