Living The Journey - Everyday Heroes Tell Their Story
Author: Bridget McKern

Chapter 9
Autism - can it be cured?










Turning my world around …



We are the real heroes of every day;  we come up every morning out of the individual details of our sleeping minds, and it’s given to us to shine brightly on the events that touch us, whatever they may be.                                        The Promise of a New Day - Hazelden Meditation series.





Cherie is the mother of Bronte, almost six, who is by all accounts, an exceptional child recovering from a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age two.

            Cherie and her husband Scott were determined to find positive answers to the initially damning diagnosis of autism in their daughter and were put in touch with the Son-Rise Program in Massachusetts, U.S. where they went for training. This program, based on dedicated playtime, acceptance and love, dramatically changed their lives, attitudes and the outlook for their daughter.


This is what Scott and Cherie wrote in their article for a Local paper:


            Imagine being told that your child will never be able to feel or express any real emotion towards     you or ever have a meaningful conversation with you their whole life.  Then one day, after months         of spending time with your child in their playroom, they turn to you, look deeply into your eyes and say, “Hug me Dada,” and “I love you Mummy,” said Scott.


            “The beauty and power of that moment is something that most people rarely have the privilege of             experiencing  ...  we have,” smiled Cherie. 

            “Miracles like this are happening all the time for Bronte, our family and her volunteers.”

            The Son-Rise Program has provided us with the tools to stay positive and to be effective   in helping Bronte.  It sounds crazy, but the program showed us that we can be happy … if       we want to - Scott. 


Cherie is an athletic and attractive young woman who bubbles with warm-hearted enthusiasm in telling me the extraordinary story of their ‘journey of discovery’  with Bronte and her younger brother Henry.  Here it is:


How has the Son-Rise Program helped your family deal with Autism?

What we’ve been doing is really what we want to do.  We don’t honestly regard it as anything extraordinary.  A lot of people … most people we come across, find what we’ve done with Bronte extraordinary because it’s quite different.  We were fortunate enough to find the Son-Rise Program in America which gives a positive alternative action plan for the care and nurturance of children who have been diagnosed with autism.  A live-in programme called the  Options Institute has been set up there, to teach and care for the whole family dynamics of these children and their parents.  

            It was January 13, 2003 when Bronte was first diagnosed and she was not quite two years old. 


Is that date etched on your mind?

No but Scott is fabulous with dates, and we were talking about it only the other day.  I do remember it was January because it was the Australia Day long weekend when we met the Brennan family in Goulburn who introduced us to the Son-Rise program which they were running for their son Charlie who was six.  They invited us down to their home to observe and learn about it.  Bronte was nearly two and our baby son, Henry, was only a couple of months old.

            We had already investigated other programmes for autistic kids like ABA, (Applied Behaviour Analysis)  the main programme that families with autism use in Australia.  We met their facilitators and I didn’t want to do the ABA because they didn’t want me to be involved.

            I was a stay home mum so I wanted to be involved because I felt nobody knows Bronte like I know her.  They wanted to come in and do all the facilitating using behavioural control modification methods.  I didn’t like it that at that early stage they were trying to stop her behaviours.  She was sitting flicking pages for hours or spinning herself around, and the facilitators were saying to us that her behaviour was something that they wanted to stop.  We felt it was wrong to be spending thousands of dollars to get strangers to come and work with your children - getting your child to stop doing what they are doing …

            I felt, even at that very early stage, that there was a reason for her doing these things, and that she was not doing it to annoy another person.  She was withdrawn into her own world and doing these activities because they somehow stimulated her or made her feel good.  I didn’t want to stop that.  So Scott and I made the decision that ABA wasn’t for us, and then we found out through friends, that a Son-Rise program was going in Goulburn.  I remember thinking it sounded sort of hippie, but we would go and see what it offered …

            So we went down to Goulburn on Australia Day long weekend and the Brennan family were extremely generous with their time to let us come down and see them.  We met their little boy, Charlie who was six years old, and the first thing he did was to hit Scott with a fly swat, and then he walked away.  It was my first introduction to another child with autism.  I didn’t know much about it, and hadn’t really heard of it, apart from the movie Rain Man.

            Charlie was communicating with his parents, talking to them and with his two sisters.  I noticed that this little boy was looking at them at times, but not a lot.  I was aware of that because Bronte had no eye contact then.  She never looked into our eyes … never once … even if we held her face she could not look in our eyes.  I suppose I was very judgmental and extremely analytical, so I was watching and thinking, “Oh Wow!  is this going to be Bronte four years on?”

            That night we stayed in a hotel all in one room together and once the children got off to sleep, we were able to watch all the videos about the Son-Rise Program in America that they had given us.  We  sat up until four in the morning watching and just got so excited.  It had such a strong impact on me:  I was crying and laughing, I was just so overwhelmed.  I said to Scott, “I feel so much better just watching these families.  Look at these children.  They’re different to Bronte in some ways and yet …”

            I  remember being very uncomfortable when I saw Jordan, the little boy in the UK video, I Want My Little Boy Back, screaming and carrying on;  whereas our little girl, in the early stages, was much more withdrawn and quiet and hard to engage.  She did have tantrums, but not the dramatic behaviour like Jordan exhibited.  But she did have other features that Jordan had, and I knew from watching other children on the video that Bronte did indeed fit the diagnosis of autism. 

So the next day we went back to the Brennan’s and saw Charlie again.  We had experienced an attitudinal change just from seeing those videos, even before we did the program ourselves. We were told about his past before they started his program, and the contrast after … at first, a little boy that screamed a lot and held his hands over his ears and was very, very upset when he was exposed to the noise of the cattle yards where they worked.  We saw him the next day as they worked with him, and the change in him and how he was really very comfortable.  We watched the way his parents were interacting with him … they were extremely positive following his lead both in the playroom setting and in everyday life.  So we were convinced we wanted to run this Program ourselves and I said to Scott, “Wow!  This is going to be wonderful.”

            We rang my mum and dad, and thankfully, they do have the ability to help us, and straightaway, they said, “Whatever you want to do, we will help you.”

            So when we got home, we rang the Option Institute and they had a Start-Up program happening the next month in February.  I was still breastfeeding Henry so I was not in a position to leave Bronte.  Also I was still very protective and really unsure, because up until that point of her diagnosis, I felt I was her main advocate.  I protected her like a Tiger Mum … I still am but a lot more low key now, because I know she can look after herself.   

            But that stage, I can remember my Mum saying to me when Bronte was about eighteen months old, “No wonder Bronte doesn’t ask for anything to eat or drink because you always give it to her.”  and I remember thinking, “I wonder if that’s true … I don’t think it is, but I wonder if it is?”  Then I thought, “No, she never asks me to eat or drink and that’s why I help her with it.”

But mum said, “You should try it sometime, not offering it to her all the time, and see if she comes and asks you for a drink.” 

            One day I did that, and we went all day and she never had any juice or drink or water … nothing … even though she could say those words.  At the end of that day I offered her a drink of water and she drank a whole glass from top to bottom without stopping …  and I thought, “No.  She doesn’t know how to ask me.  Even if she’s dying of thirst and wanting it so badly, she can’t ask me.” 

How did you first suspect that there was something different about Bronte?

I used to take her to a Jolly Jumbuck Gym and she’d love to run around doing all the activities.  Then when I’d bring her home, she’d sit and close off and withdraw.  I believe these children withdraw because they can’t take any more inputs.   She was totally withdrawn into her own little world.  She would be visually active, looking at things, but it was almost as if she was deaf.  You could call her name and she wouldn’t look up or take any notice.

            So Scott went to America the first time.  I remember when he left, I was traumatised and upset, thinking, I am here on my own … how am I going to cope?  I was very dramatic in those days and so emotional.  

            Anyway, he said, “Don’t worry.  We’ll fix this problem,”  and I said, “I don’t care about fixing it … I just want to feel better.  I just want to find some answers because I feel really worried.  I don’t know how to help Bronte and I feel so inadequate …”

            And so he went in February 2003, and when he came back, he was different … after just one week  there was a significant difference.   I tell you, it was phenomenal.  It would have been great to do the course together, but I went a couple of months later in June when Henry was a bit older.  

            One thing that sticks in my mind really clearly, is that Bronte was a really difficult child to feed.  She developed a real desire for gluten and dairy products.  That was all she wanted to eat.  Leading up to the stage when she was diagnosed, if we prepared her a meal and we put it in front of her, she would throw the food away or she would scream or screw up her face.

            It got to the stage where Scott wouldn’t try to feed her because he just couldn’t get her to eat at all, so I would try to feed her.  But no matter what I cooked for her,  we would end up having to give her something she craved such as cheese on white bread, cheese on toast, milk, yoghurt, fish fingers, chicken nuggets, chips … they were the only foods that she would eat at the time.  These foods are all high in gluten and dairy casein. 

            There’s a lot of research on casein and gluten  and we have since found out that it’s like a drug for these kids.  When they eat them they get a kind of ‘high’ and then feel awful as they come down off it.  It’s like an opiate for kids.

            Because we’d been told about these undesirable effects, we took Bronte off those foods immediately Scott came back from America, and she reacted quite badly for about three weeks.  But after about a month, we saw lots of improvement, so we knew it was a good thing.  But she was still a very fussy eater.  One day when Scott came home at lunch time, he said, “By the way what do want me to get her to eat?  Pick something.” 

            I said, “Well, OK.  Carrots. Get her to eat a raw carrot.” (I thought she would never eat raw carrot.)

            He said, “OK”

            So we went up into the kitchen and he said to me, “I want you to go and sit down over there and be as positive as you can.  Just watch what happens.”  So he sat her up on the table and got out a bag of carrots and he made those carrots so exciting!  He was animated, saying funny things, munching on them, singing and acting … and I promise you, within a couple of minutes, she had a carrot up to her lips by herself.  He was offering it but she refused initially … and then slowly, all by herself, she started eating the carrot! 

            My reaction was, well, that’s fantastic, but does that mean that I have to do all that over-acting every time I want to feed her?!

            And he said, “No just until she gets the idea that it’s fun and it’s OK  and …”  he added, “We’ve got to believe that she can eat this food.  It won’t all be perfect but it’s just a change in attitude – it’s just learning to present it in a different way.”

            So we started making and eating food more exciting, getting animated with food … and it has been a journey.   I’ m not saying that she started to become a fabulous eater straightaway, but over a period of about three to four months, I had her eating a good variety of vegetables, fruit, and meat.

It sounds like you had to start a sort of vaudeville around food … an old fashioned, funny stage act ?

Yes, that is exactly what I did.  It was fun, really fun doing that.  We used similar techniques with Henry and he’s a good eater as well.  Now Bronte chooses to eat such a wonderful variety of foods, fruit, vegetables … she’s not on any grains … no complex carbohydrates at all.   It’s called a Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet or a Special Carbohydrate Diet. 

            There’s a neurologist in the UK whose son was diagnosed with autism, and she left the field of neurology to focus on caring for him.  She researched and spoke to many other specialists and developed this diet that she suggested these children should have.

            Just to make it simple, it’s based on the belief that their gut flora is not balanced and the gut function disabled;  hence their immune and nervous systems are affected.  They’ve often got Leaky Gut Syndrome.  We’ve had all this tested and we know that Bronte has this … too many anaerobic bacteria and too much yeast (candida albicans) living in her gut.  Complex carbohydrates break down to glucose and those pathogens live off sugar. 

            We also know that Bronte has decreased enzyme activity.  Her gut is just not functioning the way it should.  So if you give her a complex carbohydrate like potato or rice, when she eats it, she can’t digest it properly and it’s left in the stomach to ferment, or putrefy if it’s protein, and that’s the food source for the pathogens in her gut.  

            So basically, the idea behind this diet is, you remove the food source for the pathogens and they can’t exist.  You have to give Probiotics as well to introduce beneficial bacteria back into the gut and you give fermented foods because they’ve got all the natural enzymes which do the digesting.

            We’ve seen Bronte move from having the most putrid pale bowel motions … frequently constipated up to fifteen days, fluctuating with diarrhoea ...  to now having normal daily motions.  Hence her behaviour, her neurology, her immunity, everything has improved.  So I am a very big advocate of diet. 

            I went overseas in May 2004 to Massachusetts to do a Maximum Impact Course for a week about the time we started the special Carbohydrate Diet and that was very dramatic for Bronte.  She was extremely ill for about four days when she started it and we were told that was because the pathogens were no longer getting their food source and dying and releasing all their toxins into her system.

            I was very excited to be going, but at the same time I was very worried about leaving.  I knew the diet was paramount and I knew Scott was capable, but I was so anxious I rang him  many times on my journey over there, asking, “How is she?”

            She wasn’t very good.  She had this huge tummy and she used her bowels over  a twenty four hour period passing about eight feet of faecal matter … she had it banked right up to her oesophagus.  We had an X-ray done a few days before and it showed massive faecal overloading.  As we took her off the carbohydrates and she started to go to the toilet non-stop for a twenty-four hour period.  By the time the last lot came through, it was bright yellow which was her liver bile.

            By the time I came back, she’d started the diet and Scott did a fabulous job.  He had his mum here and she was fabulous as well.  We saw Bronte take off at that point.  There was major growth and changes.  I think it was attributable to the things that I learnt at Maximum Impact and the changes I was making, as well as the diet.  They were so important.

            I was never really aware of the idea that when you change yourself, it has an affect on everyone around you, but since then I know it really does.  Both Scott and I always saw big changes in Bronte when we came back from our courses.  Probably the change in our perspective meant we could see her differently.  After our Start-Up Course, we put an article in the paper asking for volunteers to help us run the Playroom idea and all these people came forward.  It meant between us we could give her dedicated one-on-one connecting time for six to eight hours a day, seven days a week.

How old was she then?

Well, she would have been three-and-a- half.  We had worked diligently from when Scott got back from the first trip in March, with him telling me what to do, and me reading the literature, and then me going in June.  We were both starting to get a bit more understanding about the importance of our attitude and the various techniques we could use to help Bronte.

            The other thing that happened was that we took Bronte for two Intensives to America in November 2003 where they worked intensively with her and with us for a week. 

            One thing we couldn’t get on board was toilet training.  I think it was tied in with all the problems with her gut … but we were very, very keen for her to be toilet trained and we were working on it … every thing that we could try.  We couldn’t get her to freely use the potty or the toilet. 

We wrote on the Option Institute goals form before we went, “We really want to get our child toilet trained!”  That was our main priority.  When I looked back after, I think, well, of all the things we wanted … why did it matter so much?   But just at that time we were obsessive about it. 

Can you describe how the Playroom idea helps Bronte?

The idea is first to create a safe, fun, distraction-free dedicated area in the home.  This facilitates the optimal environment for learning and growth.  Then one-on-one, we, the parents and the volunteers, enter into Bronte’s world, helping her to come into ours by playing with her, watching and mirroring what she does with loving interest and non-judgemental observation.

            At Option, we spent the first day with the facilitators while Bronte was in their Playroom for about eight hours.  I remember thinking, she can’t do eight hours!  But when they finished about five o’clock, she was saying “More Playroom,” and she was starting to put words together.  They are the most amazing people! 

Then we all slept on it, and then the next day we were talking about the things that we wanted to see change in her, and they said, look at what you’ve written, and I realised, Wow!  After even just one day, it didn’t seem like such a high priority any more about the toilet training. 

            We talked about how we wanted to improve our communication with her and to help her improve her eye contact with us.  That was really important to me … still is … it’s still not quite right, even though she’s hit the normal plateau.  But I think more changes need to come from me before she’s fully able to interact.  We have to accept ourselves and encourage her to be who she wants to be … then we become able to help her to help herself.  She is such a fabulous teacher, she’s just so delightful!

            So back at Option, we spent time just observing her in the Playroom.  From the observation room (one way glass) we watched as Carolina, one of the facilitators was playing with her.  Bronte was very exclusive, not making any form of interaction with Carolina at all … just fiddling with little toys, and then … after a period of time, she started to wriggle a little bit, and Carolina made a comment, “I think you might want to go to the toilet.  There’s a toilet just in there and you can help yourself.  You can get up and pull your pants down and sit on the toilet.” 

            I remember thinking at the time, “Can she do it?”   And she did!

            After another little wriggle, she got up she walked into the bathroom.  There was a second window so we could see into the bathroom and Scott and I were up like a flash watching … and she used that toilet …  all by herself …  and we’ve never looked back.  

            That afternoon, we asked the facilitator, “How did you do this?” 

            She said, “I believed that she could do it, of course.  I believed in Bronte.  That she could and she would.  And then I just facilitated the action, and didn’t require her to do anything - just said what she could do …  there was no pressure.”  In other words she just gave her the techniques, cues, and then let her be …

            Then she said to us, “ The other thing is, have you guys had any changes?” 

            I said, “Yes.  We both decided this morning that the toilet thing wasn’t such a big demand for us any more!”

            That was my first introduction to the principle, that when you change yourself, even when it seems small … it frees the other person to make their changes.  That was a very new concept to me.  I really believe that you can make a difference this way …

It seems to be a fundamental healing dynamic.   ‘Letting go’ and taking self-responsibility.

The movie “What the Bleep …” described it well I think

            Before this experience with Bronte, I didn’t do this.  I’m educated to be analytical.  I did a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Archaeology and Geography and I worked with the Australian Museum as a researcher and wrote most of the text for the permanent Indigenous gallery.

            So I was a person that was living my life and thinking about things, aware of what was going on around me, but not aware of the deeper dimensions of personal change.

I remember the whole pregnancy with Bronte thinking, “I am going to have a son.  I don’t know what I’d do with a daughter …”  ( I’ve got two older brothers.)

I even remember saying to my mum, “What if we have a girl first?  What will I do with a daughter?” 

            Mum said,  “That’s interesting that you are saying this …  perhaps it’s something you should check on.”  I was quite anxious about Downs Syndrome, like many first time parents.  Not so much that I wouldn’t love a child with a challenge like that, but rather I had a fear of being inadequate to the task of parenting a child with special needs. 

            Anyway when I went into labour, I thought it would be a natural birth, but I had high blood pressure and my obstetrician ended up not being there …  everything was different from my expectations.  Bronte was born very quickly and the next thing they were saying, “You’ve got a daughter!”  I remember thinking … “A daughter … No! Are you sure? ”  

            She was just gorgeous …  a big baby, 8lbs 12 ozs. … and she was different from any idea I had of who she was going to be …  and she really turned my world around. 

From then on everything started happening so fast.  We lived down a steep hill in the boat shed at my parents’ place.  One rainy night, I was carrying groceries and an umbrella, the cat in a knitting bag and Bronte in a papoose, and I had to come down three hundred steps to where we lived, and I slipped … So I said to Scott when he got home that night, “You’ve got to find us a house to live in …it’s time to find our own place.”  And he found this home fairly quickly and we moved in here.

            Of course there was a lot on …  moving house with our new baby, life really was out of control for me.  I had a hyperactive thyroid, and I kept saying to Scott, “Something’s not right…”  and he was saying, “We’ve just had big changes, a new baby and you’re a first time mum …  post natal depression perhaps …?” 

            When you have a hyperactive thyroid, your metabolism gets speeded up and  life just seems out of control.  I felt a bit depressed about the way I was feeling, but it hadn’t affected my eating.  But even though I was eating a lot and breast-feeding Bronte, I lost a lot of weight … about twenty kilos.  I was so thin, and that worried me.  People would say, “Why are you so thin?  Are you alright?”

            That went on for a while until Bronte’s first birthday and I was saying to Scott, “You know she’s not reacting like I thought she would … I can’t engage her.  I think something is wrong.”

            He was saying, “Cherie, you are overreacting … you’re imagining it …” 

            I spoke to my mum, my mother-in-law, lots of different people, but the bottom line was that I did know that something was wrong.  Mother’s intuition ... 

            The thyroid, (post-partum thyroiditis) rectified itself and I didn’t need any particular treatment.  Once my health improved, I was able to focus more on Bronte.  I was quite sure there were problems for her at that time.  I started to notice differences with the other children that were in the mothers’ group we went to.  Some children would be clinging to their mums, or their mums were interacting with them, and I had this daughter that was lying back on her sheepskin rug, playing with a few little things in her own little world and totally happy …  never fussing … but not engaging.  She did give eye contact in the first year, but then that started to diminish between the ages of ten months and two years.

What about movement?

She did all the milestones, crawling and sitting and even said “Mumma” on Father’s Day which we laughed at, because Scott wanted her to say Dadda first! 

            Everyone would say to me, “You’ve got the best child, Cherie.  Look at her!  She is so easy to look after …”  (that’s a bit telling)

Then she hit about nine months when she came off the breast, and we gave her formula milk and things started to change.  She wasn’t able to say the words she had first mastered.  There was a noticeable regression.  Vaccinations were given about that time.  Undeniably they have played a part in this whole thing.  She can’t excrete the mercury in the vaccine as well as other children.  And we had her viral titres tested and discovered she has very high levels of viruses still living in her body.  Her immune system cannot get them under control or remove them from her body.

So there is a strong causative component of the physical and the immune system in all this?

Yes.  There are very strong biomedical reasons why she exhibits autism behaviours …  but I also believe there is more to it than a few physical, chemical causes I think many parents think it’s all biomedical, including myself initially.  I see a lot of parents that are angry and upset and want to sue people and want to have something to blame.  But they don’t move on through that…             

            I think, for us, we’ve been so fortunate, because we did have feelings like that too, for a while.  I was angry and said …  “Why us?  Why Bronte?  Why this little person living in this little part of the world?   Why does she have to have all these challenges because of these companies that put mercury in their vaccines just to make their product last longer on the shelf?  They don’t think about Bronte Phillips … ” That’s what upset me.  But now, I think that there’s more to it than any one cause.

            I like to believe that she chose her life.  I like to believe that she’s OK and she will find her way.  I like the idea of celebrating who she is and helping her be who she wants to be.  I  want to help her address gut issues and the physical aspects of autism, but I don’t want to get so caught up in these things that I miss out on seeing who this splendid individual is now.

            As we continue to help her, we are beginning to see who she truly is more clearly.  I just thought she was going to be introverted and really placid like Scott but Henry’s the one more like Scott.  Bronte’s nothing like that!  She’s extroverted, she’s the life of the party.  Now we are starting to see her personality and she is a real performer!  She can turn a room upside down … she’s just so charismatic and social at times.… !! 

            We have seen the importance of giving her supplements where there were huge deficits … getting  her to a level where she is eating enough and absorbing enough to absorb her nutriments from food sources.  As human beings we need a certain amount of nutrition to allow proper brain function.  I am really pleased that we’ve helped her tremendously and got a really good diet.

            I think it’s also important to implement homeopathy to help her process viruses and help her body to remove the mercury and heavy metals naturally.  We have been helped by some wonderful alternative practitioners … homeopathy, naturopathy, Bowen therapy, Cranio-sacral work … But I also think it’s important to let her know that we believe that she’s chosen this path. I am sure she chose me.  She must have looked down on me wherever she was, and thought, “She’s someone I want to help!”

            Bronte came along, turned my world up-side down, being a little girl, and then a little bit later, a child that had challenges and does things very differently.  To me, she is unique and very special to me. 


Do you think she has extrasensory perception?

I think she can read thoughts … pick up on thoughts.   I’ve had that experience with her.  She communicates by other means than verbally.  She’s not choosing to express that as much now, but I see her interacting with Scott, and the two of them are like peas in a pod.  They don’t need to say a lot and their relationship is extraordinary. 

            And with me it’s extraordinary also although there are still elements of Bronte and myself that I don’t accept, but it’s a continuing journey and I now know that I don’t have to have it all straight away.  It will all happen the way it’s meant to happen.  She’s led me the whole way.   If you talk to the people in her life, I doubt there’d be even one person who hasn’t changed after meeting Bronte.

            When you look at the way we lived before this experience, we had no idea of chemicals … what chemicals do to you … in your household … in your body … what you wash your dishes in … what harm they can do to you as a human being and to the environment.  We were totally oblivious to all that, whereas now, our home is so environmentally friendly, and our lifestyle is great for the environment and great for us. 

Before Bronte and I went to the Start-Up program, I didn’t know, at thirty years of age, that the way that I felt and the way I perceived things is purely my creation.  I didn’t know about that. 

            For instance, my dad has featured prominently throughout my life.  He’s very over the top … very aggressive.  He is spirited and generous, and he’s obnoxious. (laughter) He’s often saying, “I live my life my way.  He is really full on.  Every time we came together, there’d be  been fighting and arguing and tears and upset. 

            For many years when I first met Scott, there was so much trauma, so much upset and times when I would say, “He makes me feel like this.”  We’d get together and he’d say things to me and I’d be crying and I’d say … “He thinks this about me… and its just dreadful …”   and it would go on for days.  I believed he was able to directly affect my feelings by his actions, words etc.

            Then, when I went to Option that first trip, it was brought to my attention, that no matter what my father said to me, no matter what my father did to me, my reaction was mine.  The way I felt, was my doing.  So he can yell and rant and rave and say dreadful things, and I can still love and respect him and think, without being patronising, he’s doing the very best he can do in that particular moment, and it’s OK…

            With that information from the program, I have radically changed my life and my relationship with my father … very much so.  He hasn’t changed dramatically in his approach, but when we come together now, because I don’t respond to him in the same old way, it is calming down and we are actually developing quite a good relationship, Dad and I.  I often think, if it wasn’t for Bronte … Oh!  She has helped me so incredibly.  

Because of Bronte, I was introduced to a philosophy that has helped me understand that my experiences are directly related to my perspective.  They teach a life model of Stimulus → Belief → Response.              The Stimulus is whatever occurs, what’s going on around you  … the Response is how you feel about it … and in between is the Belief. 

            Beliefs are the most powerful things that we take on from a very young age, and throughout life we hold on to them.  If you become aware of your beliefs, you can directly affect your feelings and solve all sorts of problems.  People think that it can be hard to change them, but it doesn’t have to be like that.  I’ve realised through this process that life is just us making beliefs … It’s all make-belief! 

            You make up the beliefs about the data that’s in your life.  That’s how, for instance, two people could stand and look at a severely autistic child, and one person could say, “What a tragedy. What a shame” and the other could say, “Wow!  What a possibility!  What a gift!”  The child is no different.  It is the beliefs or how these two people perceive the child, that is different. 

            Option philosophies are fascinating and so pertinent to our life – they talk a lot about a person’s emotions and beliefs and how these affect our physiology.  What they teach resonates so deeply with me.  They are just the most amazing people on the face of the planet. 

            The Option Institute itself, is in Massachusetts, in the most beautiful countryside, and as you drive up the drive, there is a sign that says,  “A Place for Miracles.” 

            You go in, and you are greeted by these people that you know are going to help you and your family, and help your children.  And they live the philosophies they teach.  It’s not just a job for them.  They believe in the philosophy behind what they are going to show you and teach you.         I’ve never met anyone who’s ever been there or even spoken with the staff, that hasn’t been greatly changed.  It’s awesome.  And I’m so grateful I found them.


People say to me, “Wouldn’t you rather have a normal, or a typical child?” 

            No.  I wouldn’t have Bronte if I could make her ‘typical’….  it would not be her.  I’ve got both.  I’ve got  Henry and he’s very typical, and in some ways he’s more challenging than Bronte!   She is just such a beautiful child.  She’s like my husband’s side of the family.  She’s  kind, she’s loving, she’s funny, she’s fun.  She’ll walk into a room and she’ll say, “Come on everybody!  Let’s get together. We’re going to play Ring a Ring a Rosy.” and she gets everyone dancing and singing.  She’s intelligent and clever.  I can’t wait to see what she does in her lifetime. 

What aspects do you see coming out in her?

She loves crystals.  Perhaps she’s a Crystal child.  She likes to gather sandstone rocks.  If we go for a walk, she’s got them in her hand and she puts them in my pockets.  She has telepathic abilities …  extra sensory abilities …  very much so.  I just feel that she’s very, very visual.

            Often she talks in a very creative way and tells me a lot of stories about what she sees.  She wouldn’t draw, until May or June this year.  But when she started doing Pre-school with all the little kids her age around her, she’s now drawing the most fabulous drawings you’ve ever seen.  She draws ponies, she draws rainbows and clouds.  We draw together a lot. 

            I would like to learn a lot more about visualisation because I’m hoping that it may lead to a whole new way of me being able to communicate with Bronte.  She’s really great with the things she talks about and the things she sees.  She reminds me of things we’ve seen that I have a hard time remembering, because she has a different perspective on it.  It’s always different from what I imagine.  She is an enigma because she’s not an open book to me.  I don’t quite know what she’s going to do with her life … that remains to be seen.  She’s born in February, an Aquarian, the Water Carrier. 


Do all autistic children see things beyond the ordinary?

I‘ve just finished reading a book called “Born on a Blue Day”.  A Memoir of Aspergers and an Extraordinary Mind  by Daniel Tammet.  It’s a book written by a savant diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  It’s quite illuminating because it gives a bit of an insight into the way Bronte might see things.

He talks about making up a language, and Bronte is an avid language-maker.  She names her animals with names that are so elaborate and sound so exotic and she doesn’t often forget them.  Her imaginary world is huge …  mostly made up of all the animals.   She especially loves Giraffes. 

It sounds like a very rich and exciting journey you are all on.

It is a journey and we are still on it and I don’t know where we are going.  We are all in it together.  Scott is not as overwhelmed by the philosophies of Option Institute as I am.  However, I’d say in a lot of ways, his connection with Bronte is very deep and he is so accepting.  I think he’s more accepting than I am.  He’s non-judgmental. 

            I’m aware that I can still be judgmental but at this stage at least I am  aware of it.  Scott is extraordinarily accepting …  things that have taken me a long time to accept, for him …  he is already there.  He is very much involved.  Even working full time, he’s the sort of person who will come home from work and jump into the Playroom with Bronte …  he’s fully into it …  on the ground, and playing with Bronte and Henry. 

            Other autistic parents with autistic children or children with other challenges, find out about us by word of mouth and often visit us at weekends to look at our program.  We try to show them that it’s all about putting the control back into their own hands to help their children.

            When Scott goes in to the playroom with their children and the parents watch, they are in tears because of the way he interacts with their children.  To see a man who has only just met these little ones, able to engage these children so beautifully, in ways even their own family and friends cannot do, is inspiring.  He rolls around and plays with them, all six foot four of him … He’s very patient and tolerant.  He’s awesome.  He’s very calm and always speaks beautifully.  I think he’d be a great teacher.  He is very deep and I believe a lot of emotional stuff is untapped in him.  He is extremely gifted in being able to understand people.

            We love each other and we are good friends even though our relationship has been stretched, especially in the early days, when we were doing eight to ten hours with Bronte seven days a week, with Henry as a baby as well ...  it was a lot of work.  Even though we’d both been very keen to do the Son-Rise Program, we were struggling with the exhaustion of it all.  

            Scott’s been a fabulous support to me with the bio-medical research too.  I do most of the liaising with the doctor in Chicago as well as doing all the supplementation and diet.  It’s been strained at times, but we know we are both in it together.

            The incidence of autism in Australia ten years ago was about 1 in 10,000.   Now it is more like 1 in 600  I don’t think autism is a genetic disease.  She is the first in our whole family. She has a genetic predisposition to not be able to detoxify her system and is very sensitive to toxins.

            Bronte has come so far.  Every seven years we get a whole new body.  Her doctor, Dr Ong, said he was overwhelmed at the changes since he first diagnosed her on the autism spectrum.            The difference between the physiological state from when he first saw her to now …  She was on her toes, her belly was swollen …  very bloated.  Her posture was unbalanced … the top of her body wasn’t properly connected  to the bottom half of her body … her head looked bigger than it should have been.  It was an unusual shape because she had a long engagement of the head in the birth canal … and she had floppy limbs. To see her now, really strong, light on her feet and not toe-walking and her stomach completely flat …  just these physiological changes have been extraordinary.  She’s just the most vibrant and beautiful child.  She’s fantastic.

Talking about eye contact difficulty…  The eye is said to be the window of the soul – Does this relate to Bronte?    

When you read books written by  savants, they talk about how to look in another person’s eye is very hard for them … it can even be painful.  Autistic people say they can feel what the other person is feeling.  With Bronte though, if she’s very, very upset, or very, very angry, she can hold deep and purposeful eye contact.  She has a very powerful gaze.  You know she knows what you are thinking. 

            I usually cry after she has turned her gaze on me like that … I think when she wants me to understand how significant something is to her, she utilises eye contact at those times, because even though it is hard for her to give eye contact, it resonates as a powerful tool for her and for me.

She looks into your soul …?

Yes, she does at times.  I found associating with Henry easier.  He is easier to understand in a lot of ways.  I have enjoyed my relationship with Henry because it is so lovely to not have to work at understanding each other, as we are so like-minded.  With Bronte it’s more challenging to understand her as she is communicating differently.

With the volunteer system …  tell me a bit more about how that works?

I spent many months on my own before I could accept that idea about asking for volunteers.   I put it off for ages …  but you can’t do the Playroom activity on your own … it demands too many hours.  Our Program operates effectively with a team of volunteers so we put an article in the local paper and I had about twenty people call me after the article came out.  People of all ages rang … men and women … it was an extraordinary response. 

            A typical instance was young man called James.  He was a young man who had been diagnosed with leukaemia and lymphoma.  He survived treatment and he’s fantastic now.  He saw the article and rang me and said, ”I have to let you know I am in remission from cancer.”

             I said, “That’s great. Our daughter’s recovering from autism!  I’d love you to come.”

            So he came for a while and was wonderful with Bronte.  I am so inspired  by James – he’s an awesome individual.

            There are a number of people of all ages who have come to play with Bronte over the last three years.  Often they are people who have other challenges in their lives too and are really open to this sort of creative program.  They want to know more about how to help another human being and they have all received so much from this experience.

            We are so grateful for their help and involvement.  It’s very special.

I don’t want to label Bronte with autism because she has done so much changing and I don’t want her to be disadvantaged by labels, especially when she goes to school. Next year she is enrolled to start in a local state school at Woronora.   I think she will be fine now.



Reference:  Son-Rise Program for autistic children and their families.






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