SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

August 2019

Autism: Beyond Awareness to Real Hope for this Doctor’s Son

“I felt utterly defeated. Autism had stolen my son from me. My perfect baby boy was slipping further away with every day, and it seemed nothing we did was helping,” said Dr Suzanne Goh, 46. While the Physician at the Dept of Paediatric Endocrinology, KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital (and Assistant Professor at Duke-NUS Medical School, among others) spent her days helping others, it seemed that nothing she did could help her own child.

Then she was introduced to the Son-Rise Program. Now, Dr Goh has yet another designation in her cap: Executive Director of Embrace Autism Pte Ltd. Her husband Paul Chan, 46, a private chef, is its Finance Director. Dr Goh tells us how their son Zachary Chan, now 10, has benefitted from the Son-Rise Program.

“Five years old. No words, poor eye contact, no concept of normal behaviour, daily crying, and screaming that lasted for hours. This was parenthood I was not prepared for. Truth be told, I had to quash darker thoughts that haunted me at my lowest points. We had thrown every dollar from our savings and borrowed more, in our desperate attempts to get him help. Hours upon hours of intensive therapy were sold to us as the “gold standard” for autism. However we had nothing to show for it except deep dept, and a child we could not reach.

Discovering the Son-Rise Program

Life seemed hopeless and impossible, until we stumbled upon The Son-Rise Program. A family member gave us the book, Autism Breakthrough by Raun K Kaufman. This describes the basic tenets and techniques of the Son-Rise Program.

The Son-Rise Program uses an approach that runs counter to everything else out there; it dares to embrace the very behaviours that the experts were constantly trying to stamp out. They dare to talk about the possibility of recovery, even if they don’t promise it. Eschewing popular rewards-based approaches, they emphasise the power of building a loving and trusting relationship, and using children’s motivations to help them learn the social, communication, and interaction skills they struggle with.

They move the centre of expertise and power to the home, away from therapy centres and clinics. In doing so they equip and empower parents to be their child’s best expert and resource.

It was so different from everything we’d tried, and the message of connection really resonated with us. We tried some of the most basic techniques for 15 minutes a day with Zach, and his special school teachers noticed a significant improvement.

Son-Rise Training in the U.S.

We decided to attend the five-day training course organised by The Autism Treatment Center of America. We attended The Son-Rise Program Start-Up (the 5-day course in Sheffield, Massachusetts) in October 2014. It cost us USD 2200 per person. The course is strictly for parents, caregivers and professionals only, and is an extremely intensive learning experience.

This restored my hope and belief in my child’s potential. It challenged me to consider our beliefs about our son having an artificial and arbitrary limit to what he could do. In addition it made me examine how that belief was affecting how I taught him, as well as the choices we made for him. Just choosing to believe in his potential set me free to really give him the chance to try.

He picked up on the difference in the way we interacted with him, and started to see that we really believed in him. He has blossomed so far beyond what was previously thought likely. The techniques we learnt were so simple, yet so incredibly profound and effective. We returned to Singapore, started his program, and saw leaps almost immediately!

The Biggest Impact of the Program

Fundamentally, the Son-Rise Program believes that that our children show us the way into their world. When we form a loving, trusting relationship with them, we can show them the way out. With everything we learned there, and newfound hope, we threw ourselves into using the techniques to help our son. Incredibly, our lives changed.

Joining my son in his world, doing the things he loves to do, things that conventional therapy had taught us to suppress, was a miracle. Immediately, he connected with us. He used to run away all the time. He used to cry and scream when his therapists came to the home to work with him. When we started Son-Rise, he couldn’t wait to go into the room, and even locked us in with him!! Crying turned to laughter and fun.

Within days, he connected with us, giving us eye contact and smiling at us, instead of running away or crying. After a few weeks, he started to echo some words. In a few months, he started to speak. For the first time, he was able to tell us what he wanted.

Making Great Strides

Some things came very rapidly, like his desire to play with us, and his eye contact. These improved within days to weeks. Spontaneous speech took a couple of months. Conversational speech needs much more time and practice, but this has improved very significantly.

The temper tantrums and meltdowns reduced dramatically. Over time, we learnt to follow him into his world, and enjoy our time there with him as our guide. He has, in turn, learnt to venture out of his world into ours with so much more confidence.

We toilet-trained him in two days. He is now learning to make friends. He loves interaction and creative play. His motivations have given us a way to teach him to read and learn so many things which seemed impossible before.

(See also: Helping Children with Special Needs through Dance/Movement Therapy)

New Hope, Real Hope

Rates of autism are skyrocketing around the world. Hence the urgency to find an effective way to help these children is critical. Increasing awareness is merely the first step. We need to leap beyond just being aware, and start to really make a difference.

What has restored our hope and given us back our son, we now want to share with fellow parents. Every parent with a child with autism and other related conditions can now learn how to help their loved ones.

Parents with special needs children are already aware of the challenges they face and the seemingly insurmountable odds against them. What we have to do is enable them to do what they need to help their children.

The community of Son-Rise parents in Singapore is steadily growing. We are seeing tremendous progress in kids as young as two years old to adults in their 20s, and beyond.

(See also: SNTC offers Peace of Mind for Parents of Special Needs Children)

Dreams for the Future

As parents, we start off by desiring the moon for our children. But when our children are diagnosed with autism, the bright, shiny future filled with hope and dreams is ripped away. Consequently, we don our armour, hunker down, and steel ourselves against false hope. In the process, we snuff out all hope.

If I were to dare to dream for my child, I would dream of a world where the sky is the limit for him, and the path he takes to get there is not limited by arbitrary, pre-set routes, and timeframes.

I would dream of a society that celebrates the differently-abled, but also one that leverages on the strengths which are unique to each.

I would dream of a culture of encouragement and affirmation for all, one in which he is taught to believe in himself and to strive for growth and progress, rather than one driven by fear of failure.

The Son-Rise Program has helped us create that loving and nurturing environment for our son. He has a safe place to learn. He has people who accept and motivate him to dare to try, and practice the social skills he finds so difficult. In the few years since we started, he has come so far. We believe that in his time, he will emerge from his world socially confident, with a boldness to tackle even difficult things. The sky will indeed be the limit for him.”

Come and find out more about The Son-Rise Program! Raun K Kaufman, was the first child to fully recover from severe autism using the Son-Rise Program. He is now the Director of Global Education at The Autism Treatment Center of America. Hear his Autism Help lecture in Singapore on 31st August, 10am to 1pm, at the RELC Auditorium, 30 Orange Grove Road. Book your tickets ($20 per person) here.

All images: Dr Suzanne Goh


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Autism: Beyond Awareness to Real Hope for this Doctor’s Son