Learning How to Love Unconditionally

“It was 24 years ago and I had signed up to be a volunteer with a local family in their Son-Rise Program. I entered the playroom for the very first time, expecting this sweet boy with Autism to play with me. Little did I know at the time about Neurodiversity, how we are all wired differently and take in and process the world in our own unique ways. I was used to working with children who looked at me, smiled at me, and engaged with me. Up until that point, this had happened with seemingly little effort on my part. When this little boy ran away from me, avoided eye contact, hid under a blanket, and appeared to shut me out of his world, I blamed myself. I started making a case for how I must not be fun enough or creative enough for him to want to play with me. How could I convince him to change? If I could just find a way!


“After the playroom session, I received feedback from his Mother so she could help me learn The Son-Rise Program. She explained she would help me become comfortable and accepting in my attitude – a core principle of The Son-Rise Program and expand my playroom skills. She was so warm and loving and invited me to open up to her. She did this by being curious and asking questions to understand my feelings, thoughts, and experience in my playroom session with her sweet son.

“The first question she asked me was ‘How did you feel in the session?’ Wow! It was unusual for me to be asked questions about my feelings, I hesitated, wanting her to approve of me… but my desire to remain open was stronger than my fear of her judging me. She had opened up her house, her playroom, and the opportunity to be with her son to me, so in turn I felt compelled to open up to her – ‘uncomfortable’ I said. She became curious, ‘how come?’ she asked. I started sharing that I had never had a child ‘shut me out’ before. She lovingly listened and continued asking me ‘why’ questions. She really took me through my experience from my feelings of discomfort, helping me understand my own thought process about why I was uncomfortable about her son not engaging with me. All the judgments fell from my mouth and spilled on the floor in a puddle beneath us… I realized I was judging the way this boy was showing up, which was a reflection of my own judgments of myself, that it was somehow my fault that he was that way. I felt a huge sense of relief, as tears flowed down my cheeks. I released my judgments and let them go. And just like that, I was able to change my belief, from ‘It’s not ok that he is this way and I need to coax him out of his world’ To ‘It’s wonderful that he is this way and I can get to know and understand his world instead of trying to change him.

“I WENT BACK IN THE PLAYROOM WITH MY NEW BELIEF… INSTEAD OF JUDGING, I LOVED HIM UNCONDITIONALLY. This was the doorway to our newfound relationship. This was the heart of The Son-Rise Program.

“The Son-Rise Program is a loving, respectful approach to Autism. It uses the premise that our children on the Autism Spectrum show us the way into their world, and then when they are ready and willing, we show them the way out.”

Becky Damgaard, Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher

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