Scores of parents abandon mainstream autism treatments to pursue Son-Rise, an intense, expensive — and unproven — behavioral therapy.
A ‘cure’ for autism at any cost
Scores of parents abandon mainstream autism treatments to pursue Son-Rise, an intense, expensive — and unproven — behavioral therapy
From the moment her 18-month-old son Sam was diagnosed with autism, Elizabeth B., or Liz, found it difficult to accept. When Sam failed to make much progress in an early-intervention program and, later, at a special-needs preschool in Manhattan, Liz consulted with his speech therapist. The therapist suggested Liz look into the ‘Son-Rise Program,’ taught at the Option Institute’s Autism Treatment Center of America in western Massachusetts. (Liz asked that we not mention her last name, out of concern for her and her son’s privacy.)
The name rang a bell with Liz. She had a vague recollection of seeing a 1979 made-for-TV movie called “Son-Rise: A Miracle of Love.” In the movie, a New York advertising executive named Barry Neil Kaufman and his wife ‘cure’ their son’s autism at home, spending more than eight hours a day immersed in his world and copying his behaviors.
The therapy seemed worth a shot. So in August 2005, Liz and her husband paid $1,623 in fees, left Sam, then almost 4, with a family friend, and drove to the institute’s 100-acre campus for a five-day Son-Rise ‘startup’ class. The angular brown buildings scattered in the woods give the institute the look of a New Age monastery. Adding to the monastic vibe, participants are advised to leave their valuables at home because the dormitory doors lock only from the inside. ….