The Options Institute is infamous for its personal attacks on ABA. Instead of presenting solid, scientific evidence that it is more effective than ABA, visitors to its website are instead shown a video series of simple, short videos. These paint the actor representing ABA as silly, scheming and being a sore loser in a “funny but sweet way”. These videos present no statistics or research studies at all.
In addition, the Options Institute is also a master of unconventional marketing. One of their tactics is to encourage parents to start fundraising campaigns to defray the cost of getting treatment at the Options Institute. By doing so, these parents inadvertently create advertisements for its programs.
The Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) writing an open letter to encourage the Options Institute to desist from the “use of strategic marketing aimed at a vulnerable population of family members”. The U.K. Advertising Standards Authority has also reprimanded the Option Institute for false advertising. Regrettably, the Option Institute has chosen to ignore these efforts.
Hence, we take it upon ourselves to educate parents about the issues relating to the Son-Rise program. It is best that parents considering doing the Son-Rise program are aware of the following:
1) Parents are going to provide the therapy for their own child. If they make a mistake or if the child does not recover from autism, the Option Institute is not going to take responsibility on behalf of them. With ABA, professionally trained therapists help to ensure that the therapy is implemented properly and smoothly. They are responsible for the success or failure of their services.
2) No one owns ABA, but the Son-Rise program is owned by the Option Institute, which markets it aggressively as a silver bullet for autism. Whether people with huge implicit financial interests will also be working for the best interest of the child and the parents should be pondered upon carefully.
3) ABA has been around for more than 50 years; longer than Son-Rise. Researchers worldwide are continually improving on ABA and parents can read published research papers to review their progress. The Options Institute implies that ABA therapists are copying the Son-Rise program. The reality is that ABA is improving because practitioners and researchers are adding more and more knowledge as they learn new things. Meanwhile, the Son-Rise program has remained silent about how it has improved its processes over the years. We are also aware that some ABA approaches and techniques are being used in Son-Rise. We wonder if the pot is calling the kettle black.
4) While we are aware of the numerous claims of success on the Son-Rise program, there was no mention of failures. This, together with the lack of published peer-reviewed scientific studies, raises suspicions.
5) The founders of Son-Rise, Barry and Samahria Kaufman, have no formal qualifications related to psychology, psychiatry and autism. Neither does Raun Kaufman. They seem to be more of motivational speakers and seminar facilitators rather than autism therapists. Don’t take our word for it – read their biographies on the Son-Rise website. As an analogy, would you entrust your child to a “doctor” who has no medical license and training at all?
6) The fact that some children has recovered from autism using Son-Rise is not evidence that Son-Rise is better than ABA. Some children spontaneously recover from autism without any treatment or intervention. To judge the efficacy of the program, a large, independent study should be conducted to see how many children have been treated with Son-Rise, and how many of them have recovered from autism. This number should then be compared to the success rate of ABA as published by independent researchers. Anything else is speculation.
7) Parental participation is key to the Son-Rise program. Parents (and caretakers) are the most important people in the child’s life. When parents start working with their child, the child can keep learning as long as they (and their parents) are awake. Given this intensive effort, the child will (and must) respond. And parents will be quick to cheer due to the IKEA effect, which causes people to value things much more highly if they have helped to create it. This also gives the (temporary) appearance that all is well.
8) We applaud Son-Rise for encourage parents to develop a positive attitude and take responsibility for their child’s progress. This is something that we believe ABA therapists should learn from. However, a positive attitude is not enough. Most parents are not planning and intending to deal with autism. When they are surprised with an autism diagnosis, they may panic and make decisions detriment to their child's development. This includes falling prey to well-marketed but unproven autism therapies that employ emotionally-laden appeals such as claiming to “reverse the harm” caused by mainstream, evidence-based therapies. When the parents give up the chances to seek evidence-based intensive early intervention, they are giving up on a good future for their child in exchange for something unknown.
9) It is certainly true that financially, Son-Rise can be appealing. Instead of spending money paying ABA therapists for every hour, parents can simply pay a lump sum to “buy” the system and do the Son-Rise therapy themselves. Unfortunately, if the therapy fails to do what it claims to do, then this is just money, time and effort down the drain. When was the last time you purchased something at a great bargain from a fast-talking salesperson which does not do what it was supposed to do? Was that product really worth your money?
10) Raun Kaufman is in no hurry to get parents to treat their children or for these children to show any progress. This is probably because the longer parents believe in Son-Rise, the more money the Option Institute can potentially earn. Mr. Kaufman has decided to go against all the scientific evidence which shows that early intervention is essential for autism recovery. Instead, he proclaims all the sweet and convenient things that desperate parents want to hear, such as that they can simply trust their children to progress at their own speed and that everything will be fine in the end. Parents follow his advice at their own peril.
11) Most of us are probably aware that we do not necessarily connect better with other people by imitating their repetitive and ritualistic behaviors, so how would this work with autism? Consider the following situations that can also cause social withdrawal as well as repetitive and ritualistic behaviors:
• Having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
• Falling into severe depression
• Having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
• Having suicidal tendencies and/or behaviors
• Falling deeply in love
12) The Son-Rise program lacks the focus and structure of ABA programs. Much time is wasted avoiding trauma and (implicitly) encouraging inappropriate behaviors with the supposed aim of building rapport with the child. Such time can instead be put to better use by eliminating inappropriate behaviors and teaching useful concepts that can help the child progress further.
13) ABA has been painted in a negative light, as if the ABA therapist is a cruel animal trainer forcing the autistic child to perform tricks like a circus animal. ABA has moved on from a purely behaviorist mentality. For instance, the Verbal Behavior variation of ABA (ABA-VB) focuses on working with the child’s motivation for learning rather than robotically teaching scripted behaviors. Care is also taken to ensure that the child can apply his/her learning to as many situations and people as possible. All the purported benefits of Son-Rise, with the scientifically-backed foundations of ABA – an unbeatable combination indeed!
We have saved the tastiest information for the last; it provides a clear example of how the Options Institute manipulates public perception in order to generate more sales.
The Son-Rise website has recently announced a “significant breakthrough in Autism treatment research and the application of The Son-Rise Program®”. It claimed that the study was “conducted over a five-day period. This means that the children in the experiment showed quantifiable results in only a week of The Son-Rise Program!”
Parents are advised to study the literature and confirm the following facts for themselves:
1) During the study, “No family members were present during treatment. All clinicians were extensively trained in SRP procedures, completing an 18-month training program at the Autism Treatment Center of America and demonstrated ability to reliably administer the treatment.” Hence, this study is not representative of the typical situation where parents are neither qualified clinicians nor have they received the 18 month training.
2) No placebo training and randomized double-blind trials were conducted. Any modern psychology textbook would have pointed out that the results from such a study cannot be taken seriously, let alone be capable of “removing doubt about the efficacy of our treatment”.
3) No comparison was made to other types of autism therapies. The study would have drawn very different conclusions if Son-Rise fared fare worse compared to some other therapies.
4) Only 12 children were included in the study. This is too small a sample size to be statistically significant.
5) The 12 children were selected from family members of graduates from a Son-Rise Program parent-training course. While these children have not received prior Son-Rise therapy, it is possible that their family members have a bias that might have rubbed off onto the children’s behavior, especially in the control group.
6) This is the only single peer-reviewed study about the Son-Rise program for the more than 35 years of its existence, compared to the thousands about ABA. If Son-Rise was as effective as advertised, perhaps there might have been many more studies to support it by now.
We strongly urge parents to consider different perspectives before trying this unproven, alternative therapy for their children. Third party sources not under the control of the Option Institute can provide essential information for decision making. Please feel free to consult the information sources below.
ASAT’s Open Letter to Son-Rise Program’s Raun Kaufman
A&P's usual lengthy post on Son-Rise
Recommended Licensed Son-Rise Program Professional Network Including Staff Bios
Eight Fast facts about the Newly-Released Son-Rise Program® Study
Promoting child-initiated social-communication in children with autism: Son-Rise Program intervention effects
Son-Rise Intensive for Nathan's autism
Wikipedia Entry on the Son-Rise program
Wikipedia Entry on the IKEA effect