Musings from a RPM mom after 8 months and still so much to learn!

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RPM is Rapid Prompting Method. It is “a teaching method tailored to each student’s open learning channels. It empowers the learner with the best possible means to express his or her thoughts, understanding, learning and reasoning.” -Soma

1. Do you believe in your child? —The foundation of RPM is presumed competence. Truly believing in your child and knowing they are capable of learning. This means teaching age appropriate lesson. My son had not been exposed to many things, however, when I am teaching about nouns I am not going to be a complete bore. I can teach nouns in the context of an age appropriate poem or story. I can teach them within music or in combination with literary devices. The options are limitless! He needs to foundations of learning and more. So make it interesting, think about feeding him a steak each lesson, not a sprinkle of fish food — go all in knowing he can learn now that you have a medium with which to teach!

2. Why educate? —“Education provides benefits beyond assisting and supporting the autistic person in overcoming the variances in cognitive development. Education has inherent value to all people. Learning about mathematics, literature, science, history, philosophy and the other disciplines gives any person depth of understanding and expands the soul.” “It doesn’t matter what the autistic person might “do” with the education; they may never have an independent career requiring academic achievement, although one never knows. What matters is: who can the person with autism “be” with a foundation of learning?” -Soma

3. Learning Channels: knowing your child and what learning channel is open aids in the success of teaching. RPM individualizes instruction based on the open learning channels. Autistic children take in their environment differently so at times can shut off part or all of some of their senses. My son is an auditory learner for the most part, but when hearing becomes too much he relies on his vision to carry him through. Teaching him using RPM requires me to be aware when he is relying more on his ears or his vision to tailor the lesson in that regard to make him successful in learning. The four learning channels are vision, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic. Often my son needs to be kinesthetically involved in a lesson or he has trouble keeping his body in the chair. 4. Sensory Activities: Involving the student in the lesson through kinesthetic activities like drawing, tearing or writing in our lessons really helps his body and mind stay focused to learn. My son like many autistics can become distracted and has lots of impulses. My job as the teacher is to provide his body what he needs to stay attentive and pointing accurately. This may mean that I need to vary the may voice volume or accent, tear or tap (all auditory activities), rub his hand on the table or on my hand (tactile activity), hold the paper in his visual field or build something out of paper (visual activity) or the previously listed activities for kinesthetic involvement. These sensory activities not only help engage the student more, they all add to the interest and dimension of a lesson.

4. Open-Ended Communication: This is when the student spells something on their own. As in, its not something you just taught and asked a questions about with a concrete answer, it is the student responding to something in their own words. This takes time! First for the teacher to get good at positioning the board for the student to be successful, for there to be trust between teacher and student, and also for the student to be fluent in using the letterboard. This is not where you start, this develops over time. Like learning to play piano, its takes many lesson for the teacher to learn to teach and for the student to learn to play. RPM is the same. My son did amazing spelling in his own words with an RPM practitioner which happened for many reasons: her technique is flawless at keeping his body in check, the board in the best place for success and her unwavering belief in him. I am at 1-2 words of open communication with him after 6 months — clearly I still have lots to learn! However, I am making progress every day and my son is patiently waiting for me to get it right and is grateful for my effort :). In the meantime, I will teach lots of AGE APPROPRIATE (this is imperative or he will know I don’t believe in him) lessons as my skill develops to better support him and his learning each day. 
Excited as we continue on this lovely journey of getting to know my boy!

“Rather than distinguishing between “their world” and “our world,” I prefer to think of this as one world in which we all find points of interest” -Soma

Ms. A shares: Filbert’s goal, memoir, and more

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I started this RPM journey excited and willing to learn, only I did not know what I was in for. Watching an expert painted a pretty picture of RPM in my head but when it was my turn to try I couldn’t replicate that picture. I knew this was something I should do though, I felt this incredible need to push forward no matter what. Filbert and I’s first few weeks were tough. I couldn’t get around some of the rough patches we were having. There was more chasing than learning…. I thought. It just wasn’t what I thought it would be. Still, I pushed through. Filbert and I increased our sessions from 10 minutes to 55 minutes in the weeks to come. We managed through our rough days and had a lot of patience with each other. I would applaud Filbert more than myself because he had a lot of patience with me. I was learning and he was adjusting, even struggling with getting his body to cooperate, he was still so open and willing to learn. My mindset changed and I began to see that even with the running away that was happening in the beginning, he was still learning. Still soaking up everything I was saying, even when it didn’t look like it. Perseverance really is key. That and conversation. Filbert opened up with me and shared so many of his desires and goals, the most important being to “MASTER TALKING”. How simple for us, yet complex for others. In a lesson about memoirs Filbert communicated his thoughts with me: “ENABLE LEARNING HEARING PEOPLE WORDS MEANING”. Everyday is one filled with lessons and rewards. Filbert teaches me in so many different ways, most of the time ever more than I teach him. I think what I’ve learned overall is that communication can’t be taken away from someone who delivers messages different than the majority of the world. Imagine being trapped in a perfectly functioning game but having people all around you doubt your abilities without you being able to stand up for yourself. Think about the torment this causes, and then think about the opportunity you have to unlock this voice and unleash these messages from someone that has been waiting for so long. No matter what happens you can’t give up because you can’t contribute to this torment. Filbert has given me the honor of being his teacher and he’s been the best student. He has also been the best student, even on our most difficult days we are both always learning. 

Ms C. shares: asymmetrical quilt

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I’m the kind of person who sews every part of my life together like a precisely measured and prepared quilt. Things in my life have to make sense. There is a reason behind my every action, and it typically relates to the question, “What’s in it for me?” Coming into Team Filbert in the fall, I had a plan. I would get community service hours for class credit while doing something that interests me. It made sense; it was practical. Then, at the end of the semester, I was presented with the opportunity to do RPM with Filbert. It would be a bigger commitment and a lot more training than what I had planned. It didn’t necessarily make sense, but I took the opportunity anyway, and my life has been changed ever since.

Filbert is teaching me that life doesn’t need to make sense all the time. I can do things just for the sake of doing them. I can do something because it makes sense for another person’s life. I can cry happy tears for another person’s accomplishments and achievements, and in a nonsensical way, it all makes sense. 

Before RPM, I would say Filbert’s life was upside down and our efforts to help merely helped him balance in the handstand position. Through RPM and other focused efforts, we are now slowly helping him turn his life right side up. I can now see the physical implications of his growth toward normalcy. Through RPM, we can “hear” his voice, enjoy his humor, and give him an education. Before working with Filbert, I had no awareness of the implications of autism. I was nonjudgmental and open toward people with autism, but I simply had no idea what it meant. Filbert has taught me that people with autism cannot be grouped; each person has their own personality behind the autistic body, and his personality shines bright. Filbert has a love for learning, a mind filled with deep thoughts, a heart for God, a contagious smile, and a desire to be always improving. He is nothing short of inspirational. It has been a privilege to be along for the ride, witnessing the miracles within Filbert daily. 

One of my favorite memories with Filbert was during a lesson about Abraham Lincoln. At the end of the lesson, I wrote, “Abraham Lincoln was known for putting an end to the Civil War. I want to be known for ________________.” Filbert spelled out “sitting,” a word that made sense within our relationship. During lessons, Filbert stands on his chair, runs across the room, or slides off his chair only to crawl out from under the table. This response was our first open-ended communication and it meant the world to me. Filbert wants what I want; he simply can’t control his disobedient body. It meant so much that he spelled out a word that was pertinent to our time together. While he still typically does not sit through the whole lesson, I have found that sitting is not what is important. What is important is Filbert’s desire to sit and learn. After the lesson, I sat on the floor with Em with smiles from ear to ear and tears in our eyes. We shared this moment of joy for Filbert’s newfound method of communication and his clever, handpicked responses. 

Filbert has taught me to put my heart into relationships with others. I am a very logical person, and before getting to know him, I could sympathize, knowing and understanding what that person was going through. I am learning through this experience to do more than sympathize; I am acquiring the ability to empathize, feeling what others feel rather than just comprehending. It is a vulnerable thing to put your heart into relationships, but I am discovering that sometimes, it is worth the risk. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” My experience with Filbert has taught me to do this. 

My time with Filbert is like a zigzagged, colorful, asymmetrical quilt piece that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of my orderly and matching quilt pieces of life experiences. It doesn’t make sense and I love it that way. I have learned to give up control of my life-quilt making to God. He is the potter, shaping my life, and He is the quilter, carefully sewing all of my experiences together. Filbert has a radiant quilt that warms the hearts of so many people. I am blessed to be a part of his intricate and ever-growing quilt. 

Ms. K & RPM: Filbert learns math

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I have been working with Filbert since the beginning of January, and it has been truly amazing. Filbert is a beautiful six-year-old boy who has a fairly severe form of nonverbal autism. Nonverbal doesn’t necessarily mean he does not talk, it simply means that only 20% of the words he says are actually what he wanted his mouth to say. For the past three or four years his parents have been doing the Son-Rise Program which that focused on creating a safe and fun environment for him every day. As of about November, he has been introduced to a new therapy called RPM (www.heedrpm.com). The basis of the Rapid Prompting Method is the belief that Filbert’s brain works just fine, it is the connection from his brain to his mouth that is broken. Previously, his mom wasn’t even aware whether he could read or not, but now we know a whole lot more.

The therapy involves teaching lessons and asking questions which sounds normal, but the way he answers is what is different. A letter board is held in front of him and he spells out what the answer is or what he is thinking. Sometimes we also give him two or more choices and he must point to the correct one. This therapy works for nonverbal kids because pointing and spelling is in a much different part of the brain than speaking. So even though I might ask Filbert what 2 + 2 is and he might say “go to the couch”, that does not mean he doesn’t understand the question or doesn’t know the answer, his mouth just won’t cooperate. This is proven when we place a letter board in front of him and he spells out four while he is saying “go to the couch”. Through this process his mom and our team have been able to learn so much more about him. We now know his favorite color is red because he loves blood and he likes to spell cool with a “k”.

When I first started teaching Filbert, which is way harder than it sounds, we began with simple concepts like counting by 5’s and so on, but I quickly grew to realize that he was much smarter than I even thought possible. Yesterday, I taught this six-year-old how to change point-slope form equations into y-intercept equations which is a skill I didn’t learn until at least eighth grade. The kid is brilliant. Not only is he a genius, but he has changed me in so many ways. Filbert has added tremendous amounts of joy and understanding to my life. I cannot wait for one o’clock to roll around because I know that as soon as I walk through their front door I will be met with a huge smile and a, “RPM with Miss K!” from the cutest little boy around. I have had people ask me if I get paid to do this since it is pretty time consuming and my reply is always yes, but I don’t mean it in the monetary sense, more in the greatest experience of a lifetime kind of payment. I love being Filbert’s math teacher and I hope I get to do this for a long time.

Ms. S shares: Unconditional love

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Every child is unique and excellent, just like a flower will bloom beautifully and elegantly. However, to become a flower, the little seed needs air, sunshine, water, soil, and environment; a flowery life also needs nutrients to bloom. These soul nutrients are called appreciation, care, love, and hope. Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder that diagnosed as having communication, behavior, and social interaction difficulty. Autistic children have another name—children from stars. Autistic children seem to live on another planet, a totally different world than us. They are beautiful and lonesome. By living in their own world, they never stop seeking and learning to live in a meaningful way of life.

Before I start my practicum with Team Filbert, I thought autism was as same as isolation. Individuals who have autism have no physical functional disorder, it is all about their minds and hearts. But when I saw Filbert for the first time, it was opposite my expectation. He said “hi” and smiled to me while he was riding a bike in the house, very open and even a little noisier. I learned that Filbert’s body and mind are separated—what he said or did are not what he thought in his mind. How hard it is for a 6-year-old boy to deal, I cannot imagine. During my practicum time, I  have realized that Filbert is a brave, humorous, and intelligent boy who has a passion of life, just like his mother. Once, Em told me Filbert spell the word, taiji (Tai chi) and he wanted to learn it. I was surprised. He wants to learn more and more, shows his interests, and eager to touch the world, to experience both of its wonderfulness and imperfection.

As I worked with him, he likes to show his big, loving smiling face to me. When he finds something interesting, he is always excited to show his joy and share it with me. I can feel that the light of hope shines brightly in his beautiful eyes. He needs people’s love, care, respect, and patience a lot. The lonely children wish more people to learn their world, to give them more empathy and understanding. Sometimes he refuses me, pushes me away, or fights against me, this is ok. It does not mean he dislikes you or do not want to do the things with you, he might be confused or uncomfortable. His way of expression and interaction is slightly different than us, but he can feel and think just like you and I. His mind is fighting with his body and trying to coordinate the two of them, just give him time, still be there with him and encourage him to overcome this obstacle step by step, slowly but firmly. All beginnings are difficult, this is a growing journey that not only for Filbert to learn and practice, but also for me to share and to gain valuable experience.

The Indian poet, Tagore wrote that every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of men. Filbert loves to read the Bible; he can feel the grace and God limitless power. This faith and hope from God teaches us to be humble and loving. It gives meaning and the promise of redemption to human life—a faithful and grateful attitude. Remember God’s grace and love when you are in sorrow, the Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him (Lamentations 3:25). As long as individuals put trust and act according to God wishes, they will be transformed into a man whose heart is always full of love and virtue; we will enter into the kingdom of God (dream or life goals) safely and fully, no matter in which way life takes us. A person’s full development is a long striving process. All God does is help individuals walk in holiness. 

Rome was not build in a day. Even though we are in a different world temporarily, we have the same heart and need to place love, humility, beauty, and truth in all this goodness. It is love which enables the world go around and move forward, by enabling individuals to travel through life hand in hand. I truly hope autistic children will have more genuine smiles and sunshine in their future, so that we need more and more people in society to care and help them better adapt in our living environment. Under the nourishment of unconditional love, I believe every family who has a child with autism will walk out of the shadows; every family will have happy and healthy parents and children.