Max’s chance of a new life

Max Starkie, from Goose Green, who has been to the USA for treatment for his autism, with mum Gemma and sister Jessica
Max Starkie, from Goose Green, who has been to the USA for treatment for his autism, with mum Gemma and sister Jessica

A WIGAN boy with severe autism has undergone a pioneering treatment programme in America – with spectacular results.

Family of four-year-old Max Starkie say there has been a remarkable transformation in his behaviour since his spell at the Autism Treatment Center of America, which was paid for by years of fund-raising by them and their friends.

Max underwent therapy through the world-renowned Son Rise Program, at the centre in Sheffield, Massachusetts, which has been treating youngsters since the 1970s.

The treatment alone cost £10,000 for the seven-day programme, but Max’s mum, Gemma, said that the results have been miraculous.

Gemma, 30, said: “The improvements have been quite staggering really. Since the therapy, Max has increased his attention span from two minutes to sometimes 15 or 20 minutes and has started to interact with us.

“He shouted me from the other room for the first time last week, which would sound normal for most parents, but for Max, this is a huge thing.

“He is starting to communicate with people and is maintaining eye contact with us, which we never thought he would before he went to America.”

Gemma, her husband Russ, 29 and daughter Jessica, seven, all went to the USA with Max’s grandparent’s, Linda and Norman in May.

Max was given one-to-one help and Gemma and Russ were also trained to give Max therapy in the future as well as training other people in the techniques.

The Son Rise program is a parent-directed, relationship-based play therapy. Parents are trained at an institute on how to be aware of their attitudes - a core principle of the therapy - for bonding and relationship building, as well as creating a low-stimulus, distraction-free playroom environment so the child could feel secure and in control of the over-stimulation.

Parents and facilitators mimic a child’s behaviour, until the child shows social cues for willing engagement. Then encouragement for more complex social activities is done in a noncoercive way, while simultaneously using the three Es: energy, excitement, enthusiasm.

Gemma added: “We hope Max will continue to improve over time and that possibly one day we could send him to school.

“We know this may not happen, but the Son-Rise program has given us hope for the future and we will continue to give him every opportunity to continue to improve.

The family, who live in Goose Green, have held numerous fund-raising events for Max to help pay for medication and treatment for Max.

Gemma said: “We’d like to thank everybody who helped us raise money for Max and we can assure them it has been well worth it.

“The program was a real eye-opener and it has made such a difference to Max’s life and ours.”

Gemma and Russ are still fund-raising for further treatment for Max and are also looking for volunteers to help look after him and learn some of the Son Rise techniques.

Anyone willing to help can visit