If Barry and Suzi Kaufman have their way, the already crowded parapsychology field (est, transactional analysis, TM, etc.) will soon have something called the Option Process. It grew out of the Long Island couple’s extraordinary experience with their son, Raun, now 4½. Three years ago doctors told them that Raun was autistic—a condition that causes children to be withdrawn and often eventually institutionalized. Rejecting the diagnosis, the Kaufmans tried some homegrown therapy: for months they showered Raun with constant love and attention (“totally accepting him”) in a desperate effort to break through his shell (PEOPLE, March 15, 1976). It worked—and today Raun seems a normal, happy youngster about to enter kindergarten a year ahead of schedule. Kaufman’s book about the experience, Son-Rise, sold some 250,000 copies.
But experts in child psychology have been slow to recognize the Kaufmans’ technique, and the couple are having difficulty raising money for a foundation they hope to set up to help other afflicted children. “Many parents have put older autistic children in institutions,” claims 34-year-old Suzi. “If they believe what we did might have been possible for them, and they didn’t do it, they’re likely to think they failed.”
Even without encouragement, however, the Kaufmans are proceeding. They’ve recycled their proposed foundation, Options for Autistic Children, into a kind of I’m-OK-and-getting-better philosophy. “What we did with Raun can be used by other people in other situations,” insists Kaufman. “Option begins with a loving and accepting attitude.” “If people trust themselves, they can do great things,” echoes Suzi.
As if to prove the theory, the Kaufmans have changed their own lives dramatically: she is taking acting lessons after years of hesitation, and he has given up his ad agency job to concentrate on writing and running Option seminars. “What I used to do kept us well off,” says Barry, 35. “What I do now keeps us above water.”
That is not likely to change. He insists that publicizing Option is strictly missionary (“I don’t want to package it”). Kaufman and his family (including two older daughters, Bryn, 11, and Thea, 18) spent the summer combining vacation and a drive across the U.S. to push his latest book, To Love Is to Be Happy With. It’s an inspirational work, the kind that has a lot of words in capital letters (“This was the dynamic of turning WANTING into NEEDING”). When he gets home, he hopes to finish yet another. “It’s the first Option novel,” Barry says.