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Unlocking the autism mystery

"My hope is some day Jack will be self-sufficient and on his own," Joe Hayes of Liverpool said.

Jack Hayes, 9, is autistic, high functioning, intelligent and a big fan of the Peanuts comics and practicing his baritone - a tuba on loan from school.

For the last several years, through the help of the Autism Treatment Center of America, the Hayes family has been able to venture into Jack's world and begin drawing him out into our world, primarily with the aid of what is called the Son-Rise Program.

According to the Autism Treatment Center of America, the Son-Rise Program "teaches a specific and comprehensive system of treatment and education designed to help families and caregivers enable their children to dramatically improve in all areas of learning, development, communication and skill acquisition. It offers highly effective educational techniques, strategies and principles for designing, implementing and maintaining a stimulating, high-energy, one-on-one, home-based, child-centered program."

The program encourages families of autistic children to bring in volunteers to play and interact with their child, Joe said.

"One of the big things with the Son-Rise program is we believe the repetitive behaviors are beneficial and they'll go away when they're no longer needed," Joe said. "We go into their world and lead them into our world."

Repetition supplies insight into the behaviors while facilitating eye contact, social development and the inclusion of others in play. While a game of chess or coloring on the floor of Jack's playroom may appear to be a moment of father-son bonding during playtime, it is in fact a chance for Joe to work with Jack on socialization and eye contact.

"I'm a big believer in it," Joe said of the program. "A lot of it seems pretty simple, but it's effective."

Joining an autistic child in his or her repetitive behaviors is a way to bond, Joe said. While some people may say a parent shouldn't do that and the behavior needs to stop, there's a bigger belief that to cut down or stop the behavior altogether is to stunt the child.

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