Our RPM Beginning from Josha's Point of View
I always like to give our account of how our RPM adventure began. I hope you find it inspiring and helpful.
I guess I first heard about the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) 10 + years ago on a television news show. I remember this spunky little mom teaching her son to communicate through spelling on an alphabet board, and I recall feeling a little jealousy... why can't I find an answer for my son? Kaegan was 'verbal' so I thought asking him to spell on an alphabet board would be taking a step backward. I can't think of a time when I've been more wrong about anything.
Years passed as we struggled to find the approach that would change our lives. I felt like we were drowning in approaches...flailing and drowning. In 2015, I read a post on Facebook by an on-line mom with whom I'd kept up correspondence from early in our autism 'career.' I knew her son to also be verbal like mine. (I feel that here is a good place to insert what 'verbal' meant: lots of movie scripting and perseverative/repetitive speech with very seldom functional 1-word utterances.) I shot her a note to ask, "Huh?" to which she responded, you just have to give it a try for yourself.
Well, we had tried every other educational approach under the sun, and I had recently begun searching for a method of delivering age-appropriate information, on a notion that *maybe-just-maybe* he understood more than it appeared that he understood, SO I googled the nearest RPM provider to me. This provider happened to be Lenae Crandall, an extremely talented educator who has gained our admiration by assuming competence in our son. If you'd like, you can read an account of our first time together here, on Lenae's HEED blog.
I remember driving to Lenae's. Our conversation went something like this:
Me to Hubby: Well, at least we won't have to wonder if it would have worked.
Hubby to Me: Yes, we will be able to check another approach off the list.
Me to Hubby: I'm just hoping it will be a way to feel like I'm teaching him something.
Kaegan in the backseat: Movie line, movie line, movie line.
Kaegan's first session was interesting, but not mind blowing. He fussed and appeared to be upset and trying to escape, but he continued to sit back down and respond to Lenae's questions by taking a pencil into his hand and pointing on an alphabet board. He continued scripting and fussing, but also continued participating... correctly. Now, granted, the questions were simple, but he was RESPONDING. And did I say CORRECTLY?
By the end of his second session, I felt encouraged that indeed, I could deliver information to him and he could respond that he understood. Lenae's lessons were upper level material! I knew that I could say to him, "Today we will talk about world history... What kind of history did I say we will talk about?" And he could poke out the word, "world," on that letter board! That was exciting enough and more hope than I'd had in years, but it was the third session that changed everything.
Lenae began her back-and-forth method of telling Kaegan of her recent trip to Egypt... something like, "I'm going to tell you about my trip to Egypt.... Where did I go?" And Kaegan, suddenly quiet, participated in the back-and-forth. By about the middle of the lesson, I realized he was answering questions to which he hadn't been given the answer.. something like, "What might you see in Egypt?" and he would spell something like "pyramids." My eyes opened a little wider, until Lenae sort of wrapped things up by telling him, "Now, you will write a paragraph about the national religion of Egypt, based on the things I've told you." She went on to tell him he would need a topic sentence, etc. He listened and responded on the letter board his understanding that he would need a topic sentence, etc. Then, she said it was time to begin the paragraph and handed Kaegan the pencil. With a new confidence, Kaegan took that pencil, that I now feel should be gold plated and displayed next to a Da Vinci, and spelled out, "I am not interested in writing about the Islamic religion."
There it was. His first expression of himself. His first steps. His first words. There HE was. He had expressed himself. He had opinions that had never made it to the surface of his movie scripts. NOW, he had been heard. After 18 years of chattery silence, he had emerged.
He indeed did create not just a paragraph, but an entire essay that day--not about the Islamic religion, but about himself and his hopes and dreams. That was the birth of Keys 4 Autism.
I am including that epic essay here, I've entitled the essay, Kaegan's First Words:
Kaegan's First Words
My body is not doing what I say. How is that? It is hard. First, I am not stupid. Second, I am not rude. Third, I am not really happy when I smile in my anger. I will give an example.
I am not stupid. I can’t get my body to obey. I have to make a great effort you see, to get it to obey. For example, I have to make it move right to get the right action. So I can’t only write but talk too—having a constant battle. This means hard work. No matter what, I might appear stupid, but I am not. ( I will not shirk my duty. I will become a college student. I am not going to have an impoverished life. I will become a writer of history. I will graduate from college with a four point O. Don’t worry. I am going to have a social life as well. Not in the normal way, but through Skype. I want to marry. I will improve. I want to have five kids. How will it happen? I will learn through RPM to talk right. I will just learn to handwrite and type the same on a computer. I will only make my voice say the right words. Someday I will get there. How? Through RPM. Happy you know this mom.)
I am not rude… having a hard time controlling my body. I am not trying to be a problem. My mouth keeps moving without permission. I can’t stop it. It keeps going and going. I want to stop but I can’t. I ask questions like a five year old. Don’t answer. They’re not real. I am not going to lie, this is the worst part of Autism. I hate it so much. I want it to stop. I hate my life for it. How can I function without stopping? Can’t. I hate I do weird things like spank the teacher. I know it is wrong. I want to be normal. Now, the last point.
Third, my smile doesn’t mean I am happy. I smile when mad. I can’t stop it from happening. I want to scream and yell. I think my smile is nice, but it is not great to smile when mad. I am not going to lie. I hate this disconnect. I am not going to do this forever. I am going to have great screams someday. I am smiling right now because I can spell all my thoughts, but I can’t smile right now. How would you feel? It is just one problem. All my life I have struggled with this.
Having autism is hard…am not joking. I am intelligent, smart, kind, and I do get mad.