It’s All In How You Look At It
Facing Parenting Challenges: An Interview With Raun Kaufman By Maureen Bennie
Most parents say they would do anything for their children. Their children’s health and well being is the most important thing – the #1 family concern. Some families are put to the test when it becomes evident there is something wrong with their child. They have to struggle, make sacrifices, and demand an inner strength from themselves that they never thought possible. They are pushed to their limits and just when they think they can do no more, they have to go further. It is when parents are exhausted, sleep deprived, frustrated and disillusioned that they are asked to continue on, to go the extra mile to make a difference in their child’s life.
Take the Kaufman family for instance. Barry and his wife Samahria found out their son, Raun was autistic in the early 1970’s. Doctors said he had an IQ below 30, he would never reach the development of a normal person, and the best thing to do was put him in an institution. The Kaufmans could not resign themselves to accept this prognosis. Instead they devoted all their waking hours for three years to help Raun, to release him from his isolated world. With no support from professionals they developed their own treatment plan which is now called The Son-Rise Program Â®.
Samahria and Barry worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week with Raun trying to reach him. Instead of correcting Raun’s behaviors, they joined him in whatever activity he was doing. These were the first steps towards communication. After a few months of working like this, Raun began to communicate with his parents. Once the communication began, they were able to teach Raun what they wanted to teach him, using an array of educational strategies.
Three and a half years later, Raun emerged from his autism. He attended public school. He graduated from high school and then Brown University with a degree in biomedical ethics. He remembers very little of his days when he was autistic. His parents’ tenacity gave him a new life, the best one they could give him. Their Son-Rise Program Â® is now giving parents all over the world the same hope. Raun is an international lecturer, teacher, and the Director of Global Outreach for the Autism Treatment Center of America.
When Raun meets parents all over the world, they say to him, “You must be so grateful for what your parents did for you.” Raun replies, “I am grateful.” From his parents’ perspective, they don’t view what they did as a sacrifice for Raun. Every morning, Samahria said to herself, “Do I want to work with Raun today?” The answer was always yes but she allowed herself the chance to say no. “Parents can’t stay motivated on the premise of what they do for their children is a sacrifice. That will only sustain them for awhile. Parents must do it for themselves to have a relationship with their child. My parents didn’t judge me. They had a sense of boundless optimism. They knew I would make the final choice about my life, “states Raun.
The Kaufmans’ priority was to build a relationship with Raun. They had resistance from the professionals. “Get rid of the inappropriate behaviors. You don’t know what you’re doing,” were statements said to Raun’s parents. The professionals painted a gloomy picture of what lay ahead. Nothing could help Raun. “I used to spin plates and was immersed in my own world. When my mother picked me up, my arms hung limp at my sides.” Samahria’s first breakthrough with Raun happened when she joined him in spinning plates. “I looked at my mother for the first time. When she joined me in a behavior I was exhibiting, I decreased that behavior.” Because his home environment over-stimulated Raun, Samahria worked with Raun in the bathroom where there would be fewer distractions. Once they were connecting, Samahria would stretch Raun more. She worked with his strengths.
“It is important to see the child as a whole person,” says Raun. “Focus on what they like instead of trying to stop what they enjoy doing.” In other words, follow the child’s lead. “I remember a woman who was at the Options Institute Â® who had a son that loved stairs. She was trying to toilet train him. She used his interest in stairs to get the task accomplished by allowing her son to climb on a 3-step footstool. She then pushed it against the toilet. Her son started climbing the footstool to get to the toilet. He was toilet trained within a week.”
The attitude of parents is the primary focus at the Options Institute Â®. “Parents are trying to address the practical side of life such as how do I get my child to stop engaging in certain behaviors. We address the emotional side, to help the parents reach a place of peace and acceptance with their child. Autism isn’t tragic. In our parenting course for typical children, we tell our parents you don’t owe your children anything other than their basic needs. Anything else you do is a gift. This perspective creates a different attitude with kids, one where the child is appreciative for what their parents do for them.”
A child-directed, child centered program helps create a bond of trust between the parent and child. “Parents are working towards having a relationship with their child.” What about the siblings of autistic children? “How the siblings react to autism is dependent on how autism is viewed by the parents, “says Raun. “It can break a family apart as we’ve seen by the 80% divorce rate statistic. If parents feel embarrassed, terrible or guilty about having an autistic child, the other children will sense these feelings. If parents teach the sibling that their brother or sister is special and may need more help, that sibling is often more tolerant of others, sensitive and caring. They feel love and pride towards their sibling. These caring siblings have been taught what they’re doing is wonderful and special.”
Raun’s global view of parenting is an uplifting one. “Parenting is about letting go, releasing the need to control. Children aren’t a reflection of us as parents. Ultimately, children will make their own choices. Parents get scared about what those choices will be, but they have no control over that.”
Raun finds it fulfilling helping parents who are walking the same path as his parents did. Raun sees his role in autism as one of teaching parents and sending the message that there is hope; the children are not tragedies. Raun raises money for parental choice – parents should choose how they want to help their child and not have to follow what the state recommends. He doesn’t want them to make decisions for their child based on a financial situation.
Raun Kaufman is a living example of what gifts parents can give to their children when they go beyond meeting their basic needs. What a parent does for any child, albeit special needs or typical, must come from the heart. The parenting challenges presented to us should be tackled in a positive way. The glass can be half empty or half full – it is all in how you look at it. Do not think of parenting challenges in terms of sacrifice, but rather in terms of building loving, lasting, connected relationships.
Reprinted from Western Parent, December/January 2002-2003 issue, vol. vii, no.9
The Option Institute
The Autism Treatment Center of America â„¢
A Division of the Option Institute
2080 S. Undermountain Road
Sheffield, MA 01257 USA
(413)229-2100 or (800) 714-2779
Raun Kaufman will be doing a tele-conference class for Autism Today (www.autismtoday.com) in February. Log on for more information