By Jenny Briggs
Sarah signed for a milkshake.
“Ooh, can you try saying the whole word with your mouth?” I say enthusiastically as I kneel so my eyes meet hers.
“Yes!!! That was amazing!! I will get you a milkshake. That was such good talking!”
This was the longest attempt at a new word Sarah had yet done and the most unguided. I had just returned from my Son-Rise Program® Start-Up training and this was the start of what was to become a language explosion, though I didn’t know it at the time.
Sarah didn’t babble like other babies. She made a few little noises. We taught her to sign; she was probably 18 months old when this started to work. We made picture cards of her foods so she could communicate about what she wanted. At 4 ½ years of age Sarah could only say a handful of complete words. She signed most of her communication and said the initial sound for many words. As with rolling over, sitting, crawling, and walking, speaking seemed like an impossible hurdle. It was clear that she memorized sounds rather than understanding the music of language and how sounds repeated themselves in different words. I wanted something beyond her few hours of weekly speech therapy that could help her more. I decided to try The Son-Rise Program.
Despite our various struggles, life with Sarah has always been filled with joy, delight, and love. She has a sparkle and an independence that never go away. My tears were always balanced by my joy. With the Son-Rise Program, my joy started to tip the scales to outweigh the tears. My own thinking has become clearer. My acceptance of my own imperfections has grown, so I have more space to love Sarah and think clearly about her. Letting go of my misguided guilt regarding her condition has made me able to love her so much more fully and creatively.
I started spending half an hour a day focusing on being present with Sarah, making it easy for her to see my eyes, and joining her repetitive behaviors as a way of saying “I love you.” I started asking her for language with faith in her ability and joyful, light enthusiasm for every tiny effort. Her language started to increase immediately, as did our collective excitement. This was not only working, it was fun to do! I was fully enjoying my daughter for who she was instead of needing her to be anyone else. Accepting her as she was, without any need for her to change, opened my energy to encourage more growth. I was spending time with my daughter instead of with my emotional pain that she wasn’t a typical child.
We designated a room in our house to be the playroom. I increased my time to an hour or more per day when I had help with my younger daughter. My husband started doing sessions with Sarah. We decided to call our program Sarah-Rise.
After a couple of months, already seeing amazing progress, I sent out an email to my local friends, describing our program and seeking volunteers. I had a lovely response, and easily built a small team. In the fall, we decided to keep Sarah home for the school year and increase our program hours to full time (30-40 hours a week). We invited my husband’s sister to be my full time helper. We have an amazing, loving team of creative people helping Sarah to grow and flourish. I am in awe of them every week.
Over the past three years, our program has evolved and changed. Now Sarah is seven and attends a preschool with typical children (with my sister-in-law available when needed). She is also officially homeschooled. Sarah amazes me with her sparkle, wit, and sneakiness. I have more joy about life than ever before. I believe that, if given a choice to go back and have a typical child from the start, I would choose this path again. It sometimes feels ridiculously hard and I can want to give up or trade anything to not have these challenges, but when I emerge into feeling hopeful again, then it is all so deeply worth it.
It is helpful to me to write about how Sarah and I learn and grow. If you are interested in following our journey, you can at http://sarah-rise.blogspot.com. To learn more about the Son-Rise Program, you can go to www.autismtreatment.org.
About the Author
Jenny Briggs runs a full-time home therapy program for her oldest daughter Sarah, who has special needs. She also has a younger daughter, Amy, and she feels incredibly blessed to parent these two wonderful daughters. Jenny is a very part-time massage therapist and Alexander Technique teacher. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA. She loves connecting with people who are considering the Son-Rise Program and she is happy to answer any questions that people have. Her blog can be found at http://sarah-rise.blogspot.com.