Since I am knee deep in RPM I am finding the importance of referencing Soma’s books and really taking time to understand everything more now that I have a grasp on the basics (we sort of, lol). Soma’s green book is a fantastic from the very first page; it brought up so many things that I am thinking through and learning to be better at and supporting my son in his life.
- Priorities: What are my lifetime goals for Filbert? To tie his shoes? To answer a family member’s question? To get an education? To spell or handwrite to have meaningful relationships? — we often focus on how others are going to perceive our children and skills that would mold them into looking “normal”. The question is, how beneficial is it if he can answer “yes” or “no” to a relative if he cannot share is thoughts or opinion on the topic? How beneficial is it for him to tie his shoes if he cannot participate in the outing we are taking due to his anxiety from my lack of teaching him about the world prior to going to a new location?
What do I want for Filbert? I want him to be the best version of himself. I want to make his life better. I want him to have an education and share his thoughts and opinions with those around him. For him to know his value in Christ. For him to develop self-esteem knowing he is great at math and writing poetry. I want for him to have every opportunity to learn about God and tangibly respond through spelling. I want all those things more than him tying his shoes or looking “normal” in the grocery store. I love him today for exactly who he is while at the same time providing him every opportunity to grow his brain and life through education and setting goals with him for learning through muscle memory all the other things in life his body finds more challenging to accomplish.
2. Empowerment! I want Filbert to feel empowered. Through academic education he will be able to develop reasoning skills to use his learning, spelling skills to spell his opinions, all leading to having the tools for becoming a keen communicator.
3. Education creates new wirings in the brain leading to more flexibility (we often do not fear what we understand), combinatorial skills, and classification skills. Teaching him about every academic field will create for him a world that is more complete so he doesn’t find his surroundings sensory-terrifying. Knowledge changes how we interact and understand our environment.
4. “Every person has the ability to understand IF taught in the RIGHT way” – Soma
5. “Wishing isn’t enough. We must act. We must create the little steps toward achieving any goal that the person with autism wants to achieve. The mind is too precious of a thing to waste.” — Soma
A diagnosis does change that my son deserves an education. He is a beautiful person that God created and he deserves all the love, learning and care in the world as does every child.
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
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.
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.