Parents are trained at an The Option Institute in Sheffield, Massachusetts on how to be aware of their attitudes—a core principle of the therapy—for bonding and relationship building, as well as creating a low-stimulus, distraction-free playroom environment so the child can feel secure and in control of the over-stimulation. Parents and facilitators join in a child's exclusive and restricted "stimming" behavior until the child shows social cues for willing engagement. Then encouragement for more complex social activities is done in a noncoercive way, while simultaneously using the "3 E's": Energy, excitement, enthusiasm. If the child moves away from social interaction, the facilitator gives the child their space by using parallel play in order to gain the child's self-trust. To acquire skill acquisition, the program uses the child's particular motivation for learning.
The program's developers claim that by encouraging eye contact and accepting the child without judgement the treated children will teach themselves to interact with others, and that this will allow them engage in social interaction because they chose to learn the skills. However, due to the home-based nature of the program, no published independent study has tested the efficacy of the program. A 2003 study found that involvement with the program led to more drawbacks than benefits for the involved families over time, though there was a strong correlation between patterns of intervention implementation and parental perceptions of intervention efficacy. A 2006 study found that the program is not always implemented as it is described in the literature, which means it will be difficult to evaluate its success and failure rate.
In the 1970s, Barry and Samahria Kaufman created the treatment modality for their son, Raun, who had been diagnosed with severe autism. In 1976, Barry Neil Kaufman published Son-Rise, a book recounting his son's recovery, which he revised and re-issued in 1995 with the title Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues. Today Raun Kaufman is the CEO of the Autism Treatment Center of America. A 1997 BBC documentary followed the family of a five year old autistic boy treated by the program.
Although few published formal scientific evaluations of its effectiveness existed as of 2005, clinical trials and a retrospective long-term study of program participants began in 2008.
Criticism and lack of cured cases
Questions have been raised whether Raun Kaufman was actually autistic before being treated. There are no documented normalizations with older children, and it may be that success "depends on a certain level of intellectual potential". Some professionals have questioned the emphasis placed on eye contact and its potential problems for some children. The consensus within the medical community is that there is no cure for autism and only a very few treatments have empirical evidence for improvements in symptoms. A 2003 study found that involvement with the Son-Rise Program led to more drawbacks than benefits for the involved families over time, although family stress levels did not rise in all cases. A 2006 study found that the Son-Rise Program is not always implemented as it is typically described in the literature, which suggests it will be difficult to evaluate its efficiancy.
Rao PA, Beidel DC, Murray MJ (2008). "Social skills interventions for children with Asperger's syndrome or high-functioning autism: a review and recommendations". J Autism Dev Disord38 (2): 353–61. doi:10.1007/s10803-007-0402-4. PMID17641962.