Open letter to Raun Kaufman of Son-Rise

30 Sep

I read your press release today Mr Kaufman and I just wanted to pass on a few thoughts to you. Your PR piece for an upcoming tour of my country begins with:

Parents of autistic children around the world face daily prognoses of hopelessness. Recent media stories highlight this: In April this year, Alison Davies, 40, leapt to her death from the Humber Bridge in northern England, taking her 12-year-old autistic son, Ryan, with her. In the U.S., Karen McCarron, 37, killed her three-year-old autistic daughter, Katherine, by placing a plastic bag over her head and then tried to overdose on over-the-counter medication a day later. She faces two charges of first-degree murder.

Every day around the world, parents like these are told that their children will never speak, attend a typical school, make friends, or even learn to dress themselves. Raun K. Kaufman tells parents something very different. He offers hope, help, and a concrete blueprint to reach “unreachable” children.

I am sickened and angry at your attempt to ‘justify’ two murders by passing them off as the end product of some alleged hopelessness. Ryan and Katie were murdered. Nothing – I repeat, _nothing_ – can justify that or make it understandable and your attempts to coerce emotional empathy from people by using their murders in so baseless a way is an appalling and reprehensible act of moral cowardice and cynical emotional blackmail. Your message seems to me to be clear: come hear me speak or you’ll end up killing your kids.

I’ve had the honour to become close with Katie’s Grandad and I would like to speak from the position of adopted family: this is not appreciated, wanted or deserved. After Katie was killed, Mike contacted Stephen Drake to let him have some photos of Katie. The terms of their use was made clear:

They do not wish for the photos to be used in any way suggesting Katie’s death is associated with a “problem” arising from a lack of services, or a symptom of “desperation” felt by other families. Using Katie’s picture in these ways would only be an insult to her memory and cause more pain to an already grieving family.

Whilst you stopped short of usurping photographs of Katie, you did the next worst thing and usurped the memory her family have. What gave you this right other than the ‘right’ you took upon yourself to emotionally blackmail parents?

You owe the family an apology Mr Kaufman. I hope you can make it sound as sincere as your pious whining about hopelessness.

20 Responses to “Open letter to Raun Kaufman of Son-Rise”

  1. David N. Andrews MEd (Dec 2006) September 30, 2006 at 08:31 #

    I’m going to speak from three perspectives here: autistic person, parent of an autistic person and from my professional perspective. I agree with Kevin.

    From the perspective of an autistic person, I would say that the main cause of hopelessness is the unyielding way in which systems stiffen when a need for flexibility is expressed. This is not a thing peculiar to autism, and therefore cannot be used to justify an autistic person’s death in any way.

    From the perspective of the parent of an autistic person, I would say that the main cause of hopelessness is the unyielding way in which systems stiffen when a need for flexibility is expressed. This is not a thing peculiar to autism, and therefore cannot be used to justify an autistic person’s death in any way.

    From my professional perspective as an applied educational psychologist, I would say that the main cause of hopelessness is the unyielding way in which systems stiffen when a need for flexibility is expressed. This is not a thing peculiar to autism, and therefore cannot be used to justify an autistic person’s death in any way.

    Yes, I do realise that all three perspectives I give are the same. I purposefully composed this post this way, not to waste bandwidth or space on Kevin’s server, but to reinforce the point I am trying to make: there is no justification for using hopelessness as a means to justify killing an autistic (or any other) person. Hopelessness can be justifiably used to change the system to make it more responsive to need: that is not a problem for anyone, I would imagine. But to use it in the context in which Mr Kaufman does is, quite frankly, tasteless.

  2. Ms. Clark September 30, 2006 at 10:19 #

    I agree, Kev, the Son Rise/Raun Kaufman press release was cheap, self-serving emotional blackmail. It has the flavor of the worst of a late-night infomercial monologue.

    Call now, operators are standing by. With just 3 easy payments of 10 K each, we can cure your autistic child. Act now and we’ll include this fabulous set of steak knives!

    In my opinion, Son-Rise (Options TM) is bad news.

  3. mike stanton September 30, 2006 at 12:50 #

    I am in total agreement with you all. I have just posted my own open letter on my blog and mailed a copy to
    It ends with
    “By talking up the hopelessness of autism in this way you are no better than the snake oil merchants who tout biomedical cures for autism on the back of a spurious autism epidemic. And what of the parents who come away from your “free public lecture tour” convinced by your message of hopelessness but unable to afford your package of hope or persuade a charitable foundation to fund it for their child? Who will bear the ultimate responsibility if any of them follow in the footsteps of Karen McCarron or Leslie Davies?”

  4. kristina September 30, 2006 at 13:30 #

    Stephen Drake of Not Dead Yet is planning to contact the person who wrote the press release (see here.)

    I wrote this post yesterday, Love and Hope, Not Hopelessness: Remembering Katherine McCarron.

  5. mike stanton September 30, 2006 at 16:19 #

    I meant to write Alison Davies.

  6. Joseph September 30, 2006 at 18:34 #

    Raun Kaufman should know better than use tragic deaths to sell a product.

    And Son-Rise hasn’t even been tested to see if it has any scientific merit.

  7. Stuart September 30, 2006 at 20:48 #

    He is using fear to sell a product which has only benefited a small (and I mean small) minority of persons on the autism spectrum. Kaufman is still reading the same songsheet as the ‘refrigerator parents’ hypothesis, rendered obsolete by Rimland in 1966.

  8. Kassiane September 30, 2006 at 22:25 #

    Raun Kaufman and his mom and dad have made a LOT of money pulling this kind of crap. ANYTHING to sell the product! ANYTHING to get more people getting donations. ANYTHING.

    Either the family is totally without concience, Raun is, or Raun isn’t being honest about his abilities in the social arena, like, oh, say, using horrible murders to justify his ends. None of these are mutually exclusive. I know a “low functioning hopeless” autistic boy with better social appropriateness awareness than Raun showed…K. knows not to masturbate in public. This was essentially intellectual masturbation.

    At this point I’m as disgusted with the Kaufmans, ALL OF THEM, the option institute in general, and Raun in particular, than I am with Ivar Lovaas, who gave my roommate and heaven knows how many hundreds (thousands?) of other autistics serious PTSD. A PUBLIC apology is owed, as is a sincere handwritten one to the family, IMHO.

  9. Gabesmom October 1, 2006 at 05:18 #

    Well, if Johnny Boy ever joins the human race himself, maybe he’ll be kind enough to blog about it and let us all in on his phenomenal recovery. If the Son-Rise Program works for him, I will happily endorse it- for the generation rescue crowd anyway. If we could only find a cure for those poor people…perhaps a fundraiser is in order?

  10. Kev October 1, 2006 at 06:45 #

    Meh – John has become a side show. I don’t visit his blog any more unless I’m pointed to something in particular. He’s grown increasingly irrelevant so I treat him as such. Let him fulminate in his own bile but please my lovely commenters – please don’t afford him the compliment of discussing his views publicly :o)

  11. mike stanton October 1, 2006 at 11:22 #

    The thing about SonRise is that the basic idea is good. Join your child and play with them on their terms. Learn to appreciate the world from their point of view before you try and introduce them to the world from your point of view.

    But the bad stuff about SonRise (of which the $$ aspect is the least important) negate all that. The Early Bird scheme from the NAS does the same job, costs the parents nothing and does not come with any of the quasi-religious manipulative psychobabble that you get from the Options Institute.

  12. bonni October 1, 2006 at 17:24 #

    and join the human race

    What an inhuman thing to say about a child. ANY child.

  13. sharon October 1, 2006 at 21:04 #

    I endorse what Kev and Mike have written about this press release.

    I agree with what Mike said about the NAS Earlybird scheme too. I did that course. It was free, childcare was provided for Duncan, it was useful, informative and non-manipulative. Not words you could use to describe the Options cult.

  14. Mike McCarron October 3, 2006 at 02:45 #

    I spent the weekend at my son’s home. My normal routine is to arrive home late Sunday night, turn on e-mail and send Kevin the news of my visit and some pictures, if I have any. Fortunately, he had a message waiting for me so this didn’t hit me cold. As I viewed his site I found that all I would have said had already been stated.

    First let me thank the individuals that have expressed concern on this “blog” about using the tragic deaths of children in advertising. Many of you conveyed my sentiments more clearly and concisely than I would have been able to articulate. While I was very, very moved by the love displayed for Katie’s memory, I was equally impressed by the true and heartfelt respect for the dignity of human life. I am truly honored to be able to share my words along side so many people of conviction. Thank you!

    Secondly, I sent an e-mail message to Mr. Kaufman this morning. I asked if he would alter his advertising release. I have not heard back from him but I am hopeful that the advertising will change.

    I am going to make this post on another site as well, autism vox.

  15. Kev October 3, 2006 at 09:26 #

    I’m just sorry you have to be continually exposed to this sort of thing Mike.

  16. Stephen Drake October 5, 2006 at 16:42 #

    I apologize for my delay in talking to folks at the Autism Treatment Center of America. I needed to take two days off this week to take my apartment apart and put it back together again – throwing out some things and putting stuff back together in better order. I may have gained us 20% more floor space for my efforts.

    I did call the the Center today and asked for Tracy Baisden, whose name is given as a contact on the press release. She is well aware of the reactions from different people, including Mike (I had a second visit from the Options Institute on the NDY site today, btw – before I called.).

    The short of it is this. She said they will not use Katie again in their advertising. I did not get any assurances that they would steer away from the “murder” theme altogether. I also suggested that simple courtesy and decency would suggest that Mike McCarron get a response from them ASAP. Ms. Baisden said that would happen but was fuzzy on when.

    I hit pretty hard on using it as a marketing tactic and the exploitation angle. My suggestion is to keep up the heat along these lines.


  17. David N. Andrews MEd (Dec 2006) October 5, 2006 at 23:24 #

    Well done, Stephen.

  18. Kev October 6, 2006 at 09:01 #

    Thank you Stephen, that’s progress on Options part at least.


  1. An Open Letter to the Autism Treatment Center of America « Action For Autism - September 30, 2006

    […] This letter has been mailed to and posted here. I have just read your press release announcing Raun Kaufman’s appointment as Director of Autism Treatment Center of America. I fully endorse the sentiments expressed by Kevin Leitch in his Open Letter to Raun Kaufman. I too am appalled to see that you are exploiting the deaths of Katie McCarron and Ryan Davies to promote your organization. This is in direct contradiction of the wishes of Katie’s family. Katie’s grandfather, Mike McCarron has paid eloquent tribute to Katie’s memory on Kristina Chew’s Autism Vox that contains these words. […]

  2. Autism Vox » Exploitation of Tragedy?: A few more words about that press release by the Son-Rise Program - October 3, 2006

    […] It is, as Stephen notes, a rhetorical question to bring up here—-but a question that everyone in the autism community needs to ask. (As in this Open Letter to Raun Kaufman on Left Brain/Right Brain.) […]

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