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.

Ms. T shares: Potential and Autism

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What would the world be like if we saw people for their potential? What if we were able to view other people as what they could be rather than focusing on their limitations? If we all could somehow look beneath the surface and see people as more than their gender, their skin color or their disability; how much of a difference would that make? I would like to suggest that we would be surprised by our findings and how much more capable people are if we only give them the time and proper resources to succeed. I have learned lessons in this and so many other things this past semester while working with Filbert.

Filbert has Autism and so he does things a little differently than your average six year old boy. Filbert is extremely intelligent, especially in areas such as math and problem solving. What is different about Filbert, however, is that Autism makes it difficult for him to get his body to do what his mind wants it to do. Autism is an output disorder and so the intention to do or say certain things may be there for Filbert, but he is often unable to express that to others because his body does not allow him to. This is difficult because people who do not understand what Autism is often look at people like Filbert and assume that, because he does not point to the picture of the square when he is asked to point to the square, this means he is delayed developmentally and does not comprehend his shapes. With this being said, Autism can be extremely frustrating for the person whom it is affecting.

I read a book this past semester called Ido in Autismland written by Ido Kedar. Ido has Autism and is nonverbal and in his book he writes about his experiences growing up in school and being taught by people who did not understand his intelligence. Ido talks about his frustration with being incredibly intelligent and yet, having to sit through lessons every day in school that would be boring to a preschooler. What his teachers didn’t understand was that, if only he was given a way to properly communicate, he could demonstrate to them how smart he was. However, his teachers were waiting to see improvement in him through the way his body was able to respond to instructions and for Ido, that kind of improvement wasn’t an option. Ido also talks about how, even after he began to prove his intelligence to people, many still did not believe him; it is easier for people to treat him like a baby than to wrap their minds around the fact that there is an intelligent person stuck inside a body that does not listen to them the way our own bodies do. I’ve learned this semester through my readings and my time with Filbert just how damaging this kind of ignorance and close-mindedness can be to the to the success of another person.

Before I met Filbert I had a very poor grasp on what Autism actually is. I had taken a special education class in college that provided me with definitions as to what Autism is and what it looks like; I even had the opportunity to observe in a school where there were students who were Autistic and nonverbal. I thought that, because I had been given these experiences and educated by highly respected professors, this meant I had a clear understanding of what Autism is and what an Autistic person needs; this couldn’t have been farther from the truth. This kind of arrogance that claims to know everything from only an outside perspective is the same kind that puts oneself up on a pedestal and allows them to look at another and only see limitations. This is also the kind of arrogance that keeps people from breaking down walls to try to bring out the potential in another human being; especially when society tells them that that the other human being is less valuable or incapable. And finally, this is the kind of arrogance that keeps the nonverbal autistic person silent even though they have intelligence to say so much; people are not always willing to hear them.

I work with Filbert for an hour four times a week. During this time I teach Filbert exercises so that his muscles grow stronger and he can become more coordinated and aware of where his body is in space. However, this is only one of many reasons why we exercise. Exercise is important for all people and this does not exclude individuals who have disabilities. Most people with Autism do not get the kind of exercise they should be getting on a regular basis which is sad considering how essential being strong is for helping them feel safe in their own bodies. Exercise is also connected positively with learning. When we do exercises or clapping sequences that involve crossing the mid-line it helps with making sure that the right and the left hemispheres of the brain are working well together; this is important so that the brain is able to coordinate learning and movement. I focus on doing a lot of ab and arm exercises with Filbert because those are the muscles he engages least often in his everyday activities. It is never easy when I introduce a new exercise to Filbert. He is very set on routine and so anything new is tricky the first few times we do it and he is usually not happy with it; but we push through anyway. The first few times we do something new I assist him completely and I am simply showing him the motion of the exercise. As time goes on I give him less and less assistance until he is doing them completely on his own. I have learned that it is important not to give up on trying something just because it does not go over well the first time we try it or if Filbert acts like he hates the exercise every time we try to do it. It is always difficult at first but we usually make great improvements within just a few days after learning the exercise. I have also learned not to place limitations on people. I need to stop myself from thinking that Filbert is only capable of simple things because it is this kind of limiting that puts people in a box and tells them they are only able to do so much. I have learned to be okay with trying difficult things with him even when they appear unobtainable at first because conquering the hard things is how he gets better and becomes stronger.

Filbert impresses me every day with how well he makes improvements in everything I teach him. If I limited him to only simple exercises then I would never give him the opportunity to grow. This is why it is extremely important that we acknowledge all people, regardless of their sex, skin color, disability etc. in view of their potential rather than their limitations. It is only then that we become open and fully allow them the opportunity to grow into all they can be.

Our RPM learnings after 2.5 months

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Why does my child do better with a RPM practitioner than with me?

RPM takes lots of skill, practice, finesse, belief and nuance. We noticed Lenae Crandall from www.heedrpm.com is taking all of the items below into consideration.

Things for me as the teacher to consider:

  1. Am I catering for my child’s sensory system? Does my child need auditory, visual, tactile or kinesthetic involvement to focus? If so, how am I addressing this?
  2. Is my child calm or excitatory? If excitatory, what is need to redirect and calm them?
  3. Am I putting choices or the board where my child can visually or auditory (tap) take it in to produce a response? Positioning is key and can vary with each child
  4. Does my child need me to give them a pen to prompt pointing, tap of the arm or hand, or for me to lift their arm up initially so it falls to the left or right to make a choice?
  5. Am I spelling the choices, writing keywords and asking clear questions?
  6. Am I in a least distracting environment? Is my child is need of proprioceptive input (feet on floor, snug next to me)

When learning RPM we as Team Filbert realized we had to master the multitasking that is doing all of the following:

  1. sensory assessment and engagement
  2. folding paper, while talking, spelling aloud
  3. positioning choices/board where child can point
  4. initiating or prompting the child’s hand to point
  5. believing the child knows the answer

It takes time to do all of these at the same time. Initially we were able to talk, fold and spell. However, he would jump out of his chair as we were not tending to his sensory system. This we added sensory activities, but often we were doing them at the wrong time (example: he would need auditory and we would do tactile). Once we layered the skill of matching his needs to sensory activities we were able to get to the nitty gritty of helping him develop pointing accuracy and flow when we held the choices or board correctly.

It took several weeks for our team of 4 daily doing lessons and reflecting to get to where we were actually able to help him learn skills as our were finally taking shape. This does not mean it has been smooth sailing since — sometimes we get comfortable and he needs more for his sensory system. Some days are “tricky body” days were pointing, sitting, and focusing are extremely difficult for him even with us pulling out all the stops we know. Also, we are still learning to be vigilant as he sometimes forms stim habits (again due to us not catching them quickly enough) like always choosing left or always picking “N”. We have to continue to compete with his stims and help him break those habits so growth can continue.

After 2.5 months all we can share is that we have learned what we know is the tip of the iceberg and have so much more to do as Filbert’s teachers, but with each session, reflection, reading of Soma’s books, and consultation we learn something new we can adjust to help our organic teacher-child unit succeed.

To start RPM it is IMPERATIVE to be a sponge absorbing all you can:

  1. Read “Understanding Autism Through Rapid Prompting Method” by Soma
  2. Read “Ido in Autismland” by Ido Kedar
  3. Watch all RPM videos on YouTube and www.heedrpm.com
  4. Video yourself teaching and do a consultation with a trained RPM professional
  5. Book and attend a camp

Without these steps you and your child will hit lots of road bumps that are doe to lack of technique on the teachers part. Your child is in there and wants to share their life with you and your family. So get to it!

ido

Team Filbert’s RPM Experience

attemptLast week when Lenae (www.heedrpm.com) came out to consult with our team we were all moved to tears of joy and astonished by his spelling. I shared with you my thoughts about that week, but there were three amazing therapists that journeyed with us. Below are their thoughts and reflections:

Ms. A:
“This experience changed my life personally, and my entire outlook on life. That’s putting it lightly. I came to Illinois from Tampa, Florida (I am constantly asked why I came here out of all places). I was looking for something but I didn’t know what, and I knew there was a reason God brought me to Illinois. Let’s fast forward a bit to when I had my first encounter with Lenae and RPM. Filbert and I had developed a really playful and loving relationship really quickly, so Em invited me to come watch us make sense of his world. Lenae was a natural, her and Filbert had developed this dance between teacher and student and Filbert’s personality and brilliance radiated through those stencils. His words, his effort, his perseverance even though he showed distress on the outside, it captured me. It was in that moment he was able to communicate with us “Keep teach me to RPM. People please talk normal” that I knew what purpose in Illinois was going to serve for me. I was here to learn to give children voices. After witnessing my first session, Em had chosen to give me the privilege of learning to do RPM with Filbert. Lenae’s patience, encouragements, and knowledge of the skill helped guide me through the experience. I must admit, after watching her, I was ready for anything. It wasn’t until I was actually teaching Filbert that I noticed how much detail and thought goes into every move Lenae makes. It was the most complicated yet beautiful dance I have ever seen and it has captured my heart in more ways than I can ever explain. Filbert is in there and I am both honored and blessed to bring him out.”

Ms. C:
“RPM is amazing. I never once doubted that Filbert had the capability to communicate, but to see it in action is mind-blowing. Through RPM, Filbert’s life can finally begin. It is a privilege to witness this miracle.”

Ms. K:
“RPM is a method used to teach kids who learn a little differently than I do, but honestly I believe I learned way more about myself than my student, Filbert, did about the lessons I was teaching him. RPM taught me that this world is bigger than my little life and the problems I face are different than anyone else’s. This means that if there’s something I can do to help out those who are less fortunate than I am, then I am obligated to help them. And not obligated in the ugh I don’t want to deal with this way, but in the it is my privilege to give these kids a voice and that is the best part of RPM for me.”

These ladies are an enormous blessing with their efforts, time, passion and dedication to helping Filbert and our family. I feel as though they are part of our family and am excited for the year we have ahead of ourselves! Daily I am overwhelmed with pure joy as our little community grows us and Filbert.

Best Week of My Life: RPM

blogpost2This past week Team Filbert had the opportunity to have Lenae Crandall, from HEED RPM (www.heedrpm.com), back for a full week visit. Myself and three amazing volunteers had the privilege of watching Lenae in action, writing and teaching many of our own lessons, receiving feedback, and absorbing all we could about Rapid Prompting Method; from the fundamentals to the nuance. Watching Lenae again helped us learn so much more as it built on our prior visit (November 2014). It was a though we were looking with a new set of eyes and understanding so much more. The biggest take home we all had is that understanding and adapting to Filbert’s sensory system are just as essential as a well written lesson plan.

On day #1, we watched and taught one lesson. We begun the journey of teaching auditorily, writing choices and having him choose accurately. Day #2 we layer the skill of pacing — when to speed up and when to slow down. Day #3 we added the skill of verbal diversity – loud, quiet, accent, or sing songy. Day #4 we nailed a few lessons, yay, as we solidified watching and trying to do sensory activities when needed. Day #5 we learned the huge importance of persistence, even with mistakes we will never give up RPM as well as continue to hone our skills and become a team with Filbert to be successful in learning, pointing and communicating. We found that watching RPM is beautiful, implementing is an art. One of the days Lenae watched us teach our lesson; then taught our lesson. It was really helpful to see the components she added and how important the little things really are in RPM. Especially being in tune with the child, not just wrapped up in what your are saying or writing as part of your lesson.

We, as a team, used the analogy of basketball several times this week. While Lenae is doing slam dunks left and right, we are getting into a steady dribble now; we are proud that we have the fundamentals down. We will improve as we practice and with persistence be making three points and slam dunks of our own. Lenae has equipped us with the tools to implement; we just need lots of practice now.

During Lenae’s lessons Filbert became more and more comfortable with the laminated letter board and spelled SO many things that blew me away. I can’t wait to continue to provide him education and “hear” his voice daily. I was feeling blessed before this week and now I feel as though I am just bursting at the seams with pure JOY!

Here some things that Filbert spelled this week (his words are in CAPS):

I want or value:

MY MOM HAPPY

I HELP HIM (when ask who is “him) – CHRIST

FRIENDS MY AGE

TO KNOW HAPPY JESUS

MY MOM TO HAVE MY SISTER QUIET (she is loud)

MY ZOO VISIT  (his sister went in the summer and I thought he might find it overwhelming — assumptions!)

 

Also, just before Lenae left on Friday she asked Filbert to write a message to the world:

Dear World,

NO MOM IS AS GOOD AS MINE. LOVE MOM SO MUCH. NO MOM IS LIKE HER. ONE HAS NO MORE MOMS THAT IS SO COOL. NO ONE IS OLD IN THE VERY HEALING WAY. THE MOM IS NOT MEAN, THIS IS TRYING TO DO JESUS. MY ONE MOM, LOUD TODAY IS MY VOICE. THANK YOU.

LOVE,

ME

He is so sweet! Of all the things he could have chosen to spell! My tears of joy are everywhere. This has undoubtedly been the best week of my life! Team Filbert and I now get to continue on and get to know my son. It is an indescribable feeling. I could not be more thankful!