In a small room by the nursery, four-year-old Regal Noye is talking with volunteer Karen Hertzog about building a lower-case “a” out of crayons. It was Regal’s idea and now Hertzog caught on.
“Six months ago, he could not say all that,” Regal’s mother, Resident Director Theresa Noye pointed out. “That’s a miracle.”
Half a year ago, Regal wouldn’t have said anything.
At age three Regal was diagnosed with an apparently incurable disorder known as Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD), a form of autism. Though intelligent, autistic children are often overwhelmed by the world and retreat into the safety of the mind.
Now with the help of three student volunteers, Noye and Regal are participating in the Son-rise program recommended to her through a friend of a friend. Son-rise is a home-based, child-centered program created to help parents with autistic children.
Noye began applying the Son-rise principles in June 2005 and signed up officially in August. She recruited volunteers through emails and posters. Volunteers train with a facilitator from Son-rise for nine months, then spend four to six hours a week with Regal in a playroom made just for him. He can come out of his shell in this safe place to interact with his caretakers, who follow Regal’s lead, sometimes joining in with repetitive behavior. Children with autism cannot cross over from their world on their own; the Son-rise program builds a bridge for them.
Hertzog is a first-year elementary education major specializing in special education. Working with Regal gives her the chance to “just accept him for who he is and just enter his world instead of having him enter mine,” Hertzog said.
Students attend staff meetings and feedback sessions. Presently, Noye is looking for students to help over the summer.
Another volunteer is junior Rebekah Allen, also an El-ed major. “I thought it’d be a cool opportunity to do something constructive with my time and maybe learning at the same time,” Allen said.
Volunteer Melanie McWreath, a junior, is considering a major in music therapy.
“I hadn’t had any kind of experience with it,” McWreath said. “And I thought, to see if I could even do something like that, I should try something like this and see what’s required to help people with different disabilities.”
The students have also discovered that in helping Regal, they are blessed themselves.
“I feel like I’ve gotten so much confidence from it,” McWreath said. “[There’s] this person who loves me and accepts me all the time, and it’s taught me how to accept other people just as they are.”
“I recommend it to any students who love to work with children and have fun,” Hertzog said of the volunteer work.
The Son-Rise Program of the Autism Treatment Center of America is a non-affiliated program that originated in 1983 for the son of authors and teachers Barry “Bears” Neil Kaufman and Samahria Lyte Kaufman when their son was diagnosed with severe and incurable autism. Now the program is used on 6 continents in 66 countries and some of the Kaufmans’ book are required reading for over two hundred university courses.