By Raun K. Kaufman
You love your child more than anything in the world. In the early days of your child’s life, long before any diagnosis was made, there may have been a hundred different hopes, dreams, and plans you had for your child. Maybe some were as simple as imagining cuddling with your child or playing peek-a-boo. Perhaps some were as far-reaching as picturing your child’s high school graduation or wedding day.
But then your child was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
You may have felt that many doors were closed to your child with that diagnosis. Because, if you are like most parents, you received a long list of dire predictions about the child you love. Your child will never talk. Your child will never have friends. Your child will never hold your hand. Your child will never have a job or get married. Perhaps even: your child will never love you. You may have been told to discard many of those hopes and dreams that you had and be “realistic” in the face of your child’s diagnosis. Certainly, there are many, many parents who have heard the pronouncement: “autism is a lifelong condition.”
No one could fault you for feeling grief-stricken, scared, or even angry. You are told all of the things your child will never accomplish – as if it’s been decided ahead of time.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to accept the limits placed upon your child. Your child has the capacity for learning, communicating, experiencing real joy and happiness. Your son or daughter can learn to develop warm, loving and satisfying relationships. Children on the autism spectrum are capable of great change and even, in some cases, complete recovery.
Who am I to tell you this? My name is Raun K. Kaufman, and, as a young boy, I was diagnosed as severely autistic, with no language and a tested I.Q. of less than 30. Completely mute and withdrawn from human contact, I would spend my days endlessly engaged in repetitive “stimming” behaviors such as spinning plates, rocking back and forth, and flapping my hands in front of my face.
Like many parents today, my parents were told that I would never speak or communicate in any meaningful way and that my autism was a “lifelong condition.” The professionals recommended eventual institutionalization.
In an effort to reach me, my parents, authors/teachers Barry Neil Kaufman and Samahria Lyte Kaufman, developed an innovative child-centered program they called The Son-Rise Program. After they worked with me for over three years, I recovered completely from my autism without any trace of my former condition. (After my recovery, my father wrote a best-selling book recounting our story entitled Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues – later the subject of an award-winning NBC television movie.) I went on to graduate from the Ivy League’s Brown University with a degree in Biomedical Ethics.
Now, as the former CEO and current Director of Global Education at the Autism Treatment Center of America (part of the non-profit organization that my parents founded in 1983 and at which they still teach), I am so grateful to have the opportunity, with our dedicated staff of over 70 people, to enable parents to help their children in the same way that my parents helped me. (The Son-Rise Program Start-Up, a 5-day introductory training course for parents and professionals, is offered several times a year on our campus.)
Moreover, I am no fluke. For over a quarter of a century, parents from across the globe have been attending the Autism Treatment Center of America’s weeklong training programs, learning The Son-Rise Program, putting in their time, energy, and love, and achieving remarkable results with their own children. Many children after me have made full recoveries. Others have made progress far outstripping their original prognoses. Working with these parents both at the center and at my international lectures and seeing the depth of their love constantly renews my appreciation for my own parents’ journey to help me.
So no matter what you are told, please know that there is hope for your child. Of course, someone who doesn’t know your child will see what your child does not do and speak as if they know what your child cannot do.
But you are the parent. You have a love, a lifelong commitment, and a day-in, day-out experience with your child that no one else can match. You may sometimes feel dismissed or brushed aside, but nothing can change the fact that you aren’t in the way, you are the way.
You don’t have to apologize for believing in your child. You have every right to have hope for your child, to see the potential within your child, and to want more for your child. And while we cannot know or promise in advance what a given child will accomplish, we will never decide in advance what your child will not achieve.
You’re not about to give up on your child. Neither are we.