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.

Monday, September 2, 2013

How to make it so “Things are Just Great!”

By Bryn N. Hogan, Executive Director Autism Treatment Center of America™ and Son-Rise Program® Teacher
We all want this. We all want to have the feeling that things are going GREAT. As I work with families from around the world through Son-Rise Program Consultations or Outreaches or when parents attend our programs here at the Autism Treatment Center of America, it is the wish of almost every person to FEEL good about what is happening in their lives, with their families, with their very special child. 

YET, often, this is not the experience people are having. How come? If we want to feel good inside, if we want to have the experience of optimism, joy, love and playfulness – why aren’t we? The answer, as always, lies within us. We tend to look OUTSIDE ourselves, to our child’s actions, our therapists report, our volunteers attendance, our weight, the tidiness of our kitchen…and we use these to determine how well things are going. If the outside circumstances of our lives conspire and line up perfectly (and we all know how rare that is) then we allow ourselves, momentarily, to feel good. If our volunteer is late, or our child has a tantrum, or the scale number rises when we stand on it in the morning, we create disappointment, stress and even despair. This is because we are looking OUTSIDE instead of INSIDE for our good feelings.

You CAN have the feeling that “Things are Just Great!” if you turn your focus inward. If you become the captain of your emotional ship. Here are three easy things you can do to re-claim your life experience – they are simple and easy and IF you do at least one of these on a regular basis – things WILL be great!
  • Focus on something that IS working: As we go through our days we tend to focus on what isn’t working and to ignore what is. Purposely look for something that went the way you wanted and really let yourself take it in. “Wow – I got all the kids into the car this morning and everyone was wearing shoes!” “Hey, I put a load of laundry in the washing machine, now we’ll have clean clothes”. “I hugged my daughter this morning – wonderful”. Fill yourself with what IS happening that you want to be happening. 
  • Say Thank You. Look around, at your child, at your living room couch, at the sun shining outside your window, and inside yourself, pause and say, ”Thank you”. “Thank you for this beautiful child”. “Thank you for this home that keeps me safe and dry” “Thank you for this food in my refrigerator that I can use to feed my family”. Gratitude is an instant doorway to feeling good inside. 
  • Lighten up: Look for the humor in the situation. Let yourself ‘lighten up’. When things go differently than how you planned – laugh! Take it ‘lightly’ instead of making it so important. If your refrigerator suddenly breaks (as mine did last week) and you have to now unpack all of your groceries into coolers and bring them to a friend’s house (which takes three trips) and the refrigerator repair people (all three of them) tell you they can’t come for four days (True story!) Have fun with it! (You might as well – since this is how it is). Put on the timer and see which kid can fill which cooler faster, have ‘strength’ competitions to see who can carry the biggest bag of ice. Since it’s our experience – why not have fun? 
Just start with these three, simple things and you can then create the experience you want for yourself and your family , REGARDLESS of the circumstances. That is what The Son-Rise Program is all about – choosing our own experience – choosing love, gratitude and joy. Choosing to have a life where “Things are just Great!” Enjoy my friends!

P.S. When you try one of these at work please do post your story on the Autism Treatment Center of America Facebook page – we’d love to hear about it! https://www.facebook.com/autismtreatment

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Step 1: Believe
The very first answer to the question, “How do I get volunteers to support my Son-Rise Program?” (drum roll please) is to BELIEVE YOU CAN GET VOLUNTEERS.  Maybe you have heard yourself say such statements as:

  • People don’t want to volunteer in today’s economy,” 

  • No one in our country volunteers, I think it is something only accepted in other countries,”

  •  “It is probably easy for people to get volunteers if they have a young child but not so much with my adult child,”

  • My child’s behaviors are too intense for other people,”

  • I think people won’t take me seriously because I am not an expert on autism, so why bother getting volunteers,”

  • No one does anything for free.” 

Your beliefs determine your feelings and actions. If you do not believe you can get them then you will not take action to reach out.
Here are some supportive beliefs to get you started:

  • “I have countless number of people to choose from. As a matter of fact, there are millions of people of all ages, and as close as my neighbors, wanting to help children.”

  • “People want a way to express their compassion, because it supports their good feeling and self worth.  My program is a perfect vessel for the expression of a person’s desire to help and to grow their own happiness.”

  • “Believing is receiving.”
Are you bit skeptical? See below the fun statistics I found with little bit of research.
The Federal Agency for Service and Volunteering released a report with the following findings:
Of the 64 million people who volunteered, 30 % (over 19 million) of them volunteered mentoring a child.
For those of you who do not live in the United States the volunteerism movement does not stop at our borders, a simple search lead me to several not for profit organizations who have websites to support connecting people. I searched Nigeria, Brazil, Slovenia, Australia, Kenya, Iraq, etc. Regardless of the country, there were several organizations whose mission is to support people reaching people who are in need. Volunteerism is a worldwide phenomenon!

Step 2: Understand The Reasons Why Volunteers are Important For Your Son-Rise Program
Whether you are running a part time or full time Son-Rise Program, volunteers are key to supporting your child with a variety of relationships. The more your child is exposed to a variety of people …

  • the more they are loved

  • the more flexible they can become

  • the creative energy your child is exposed to expands their interactive experience

  • the more you prepare them for the outside world full many different kinds of people.

Having a team support your child allows you to take care of yourself.  Taking opportunities to care for yourself will allow you to be the best for your program, your family, and your relationships.   The time your volunteers are in the room is time for you to simply take a break, deal with other fun responsibilities, have quality time with your other children and spouse, etc.
Another incentive to recruiting your own volunteers is that you can monitor and coach volunteers who work with your child to hold a non-judgmental and loving attitude and you can guide them on what techniques to use to maximize your child’s social development and be their FUN FRIEND COACH. When you send your child to school or a day program, they are exposed to dozens of people that you have no hand in selecting or guiding, nor do you have any indication of what their attitude is. Remember, you want to be a beacon of great relationships for your child … if they are exposed to many people who are not prioritizing this attitude, it can impact your child’s desire to be with people.
The more time your child has to work out in their social gym with their loving Son-Rise Program Friend Coach, the more they get to really work those beautiful neuro-pathways. In addition, the more your child experiences people as being joyful and loving the more they learn that relationships are easy and fun.

Step 3: Take Action
There are many ways to recruit volunteers.  Here are some ideas to get you started. Remember the key is to believe you will find volunteers.  If you believe you will find them,  your actions will be powered by this goal.
  1. CONNECT WITH EVERYONE: Contact every one you can think of: friends, family, and neighbors. Tell them you are on an exciting journey to love and guide your child using The Son-Rise Program®.  Brainstorm with them ways to reach people. WORD OF MOUTH is very POWERFUL.

    • Post on the Autism Treatment Center of America™ message board that you are looking for volunteers. Every year hundreds of people from all over the world who are interested in learning about how they can work with Son-Rise Program Children are directed to the message board looking for families like you.  Please post on the ATCA message board and not on the ATCA Facebook Page. In your message board post be clear about where you live, that you will provide training, and add any other incentives or information you feel is pertinent. Provide your contact email address versus your phone number. Also follow-up with a post announcing you have found a volunteer as an  inspiration for all of The Son-Rise Program community.

    • Post Flyers which include a photo of you and your child playing. State in your own words that you are looking for someone who wants to play and help your child grow, no previous experience needed because you will train them and make sure to have the Autism Treatment Center of America™ website www.autismtreatmentcenter.org listed.

    • Get an interview with your local radio, television, and newspaper. Tell them you want them to do a feel-good piece on your Son-Rise Program and make certain to mention you are looking for volunteers.

    • Contact local colleges and ask if they give credits to their students for volunteering. Regardless if they offer credit or not, ask if you can make a presentation and post flyers in various departments.

    • If you are computer savvy, create a simple web site or page that gives people who are interested a visual experience of your child. Post fun pictures of your child playing with another person, and videos and testimonies on your program.  In this powerful digital age many parents create amazing sites for their child’s program. You can search them on the web to get an idea
  3. BE PREPARED: Make sure you are ready to receive and share information and to follow through with your search for volunteers.  If people say they are  interested give them your contact information and get theirs. One parent created a business card with a picture of her child playing, her email address and the Autism Treatment Center of America™ website www.autismtreatmentcenter.org. You can find affordable custom business cards online. Give them to your family and friends to pass out.

  4. Have fun sharing your journey with others!

    By, Susan Humphries

Friday, June 28, 2013

Imagine This! Introducing Imaginative Play into The Son-Rise Program® Playroom

Some say that children on the Autism Spectrum lack imagination. Perhaps this school of thought has to do with the fact that some of our children use objects that are traditionally used for imaginative play in a repetitious and exclusive fashion. For example, instead of using a plastic spoon to pretend to eat with, they may instead shake the spoon back and forth in front of their eyes or perhaps line the spoons up. It may have to do with the challenges they have with relating and connecting with others and therefore they are not as interested in learning and imitating what the people around them do. In a world that is over-stimulating in many ways, our children have enough to deal with in coping with the world around them. As I observe my own 18-month-old daughter, I notice that she is continuously pretending to do piles of laundry, rocking her baby doll and making her stuffed animals hug and kiss each other. She is observing the world around her and is trying to replicate what she has seen other people do … desiring to be just like them!

When I reflect on what it means to have an imagination, I realize that it means more to me than doing so in a socially appropriate way. You can be a writer, an artist, a poet or an innovator and be socially reserved or introverted at the same time. Perhaps it’s the way that we share or express ourselves that gets the label of whether we lack imagination or not.
The first step in helping our children unlock and express their imagination is to believe they have limitless potential and do indeed have an amazing imagination that they may not have shown us yet.

So … why is it important to incorporate imagination into our interactions with our children?

1) Social and Emotional Development: When our children start to dip their toes into the world of pretend play, they begin to experience things from someone else’s perspective. This will help our children see beyond themselves and allow them to walk in someone else’s shoes, developing an awareness and an understanding of other people’s thoughts and feelings. In a world that is unpredictable in many ways, our children will also gain control and increased self-esteem when they allow themselves to jump into a different persona and be anyone they choose. Through pretend play, we can also teach our children how to take turns and to share responsibility, allowing for a more social and reciprocal experience with our children who are so used to being exclusive and absorbed in their repetitious and exclusive activities.  
How do we do it? Use the items in your Son-Rise Program Playroom to symbolize other things. For example, if you are bouncing your child on a ball, you could pretend that ball is a space ship, a boat or a car. Or, you could become another character by singing to them in the voice of Elmo or their favorite family member. Encourage your child to physically participate by inviting them to feed a puppet, pet a stuffed dog or take a sip of some tickling tea! Our children will learn by watching you, so show them how to play before asking them to try it.   

Language: The use of language in an imagination game helps organize play and outlines and references what is going on when we act out a certain scene or story. This helps our children associate language with creating context or setting a scene, viewing it as a useful tool in their lives. It also allows your child to practice their language in an indirect way where anything goes (e.g. through a character).

How we do it? Have your child “play” a certain character. First show them how different characters may speak and what they may say. Make sure to pause and leave space for them to verbally participate and to be spontaneous with their language. For instance, if you are acting out a scene from Toy Story, try saying “I’ll be Buzz Lightyear and you can be Woody! Let’s pretend they are going swimming at the beach. To the ocean and beyooooond!......I’m so excited to see if the water will be warm or cold!”................

3) Cognitive thinking skills: Making deals and compromises with our playmates is an important part of imagination play and will help our children operate as a team with their peers, deciding who will play which character, what costumes to wear, props needed , etc. It will also help our children with sequencing and reflecting on past and future events as each scene is played out.
 How to do it? Ask questions or make requests to inspire our children to participate before moving to open-ended questions and requests. For example, if playing a zookeeper game, say “Shall we feed the monkey or the tiger next?” followed by “What shall we feed the penguins?” Motivate them to help you and to work together (e.g. “I need your help to put this forest fire out!”)
 When do we do this with our children? This is something to start introducing when our children have established physical interactions with us (e.g. tickling, riding, chasing, etc) and have also started to interact with shared objects and activities (e.g. ball games, puppets, simple board games, etc). We now want to start deepening the types of interactions they have with us by beginning to introduce symbolic and imaginative play into the picture. This can only be done when our children are available and are showing us they are ready and socially open (e.g. once they are looking, responding and already involved in an activity with us).
If they are already showing an interest in pretend play then go for it and help them expand their interests within the wonderful world of imagination and the possibilities to explore within!
Other helpful tips: Allow your child TIME TO PROCESS and to make their own decisions in the game before you do all of the work for them. Give your child opportunities to compromise and follow your lead when the timing is right.

USE THEIR CURRENT INTERESTS AND MOTIVATIONS to show them how to play. Demonstrate with their favorite stuffed animals and figurines.

CELEBRATE ALL OF THEIR INVOLVEMENT along the way, no matter how big or small!

GIVE CONTROL! If they don’t want to act something out but prefer to sit and watch, be excited and flexible during the game. The more adaptable you are, the more they will be inspired to try again later.

DON’T GIVE UP! Even if they don’t seem to understand a concept at first, it doesn’t mean they never will. When your child sees you as a role model and enjoying what you do, the more connected and motivated your child will become, the more connected and motivated they become, the more they will learn!