We usually think Rapid Prompting Method is for non-verbal or the very limited verbal students, but the truth is, RPM is beneficial to many verbal students. While some struggle to talk, some struggle to stop talking or say what they want to say when they want to say it…instead they find a fountain of words pouring from their mouths without mercy—never stopping. Such is Kaegan’s experience. Kaegan is an 18 year old with autism. Through RPM he is able to learn and communicate what he really wants to say. Here is Kaegan’s and his mother, Josha’s, story:
From Josha (Kaegan’s mother):
Deafening silence. That’s what I’ve come to realize as the sound in my home for the past 16+ years. My, now 18 year old, son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, but I’ve known since he was 17 months old. That’s when he lost all of his useful language and began to read. He has always been exceptional, I’ve known that like you’ve known the grass is green, but I was worried. I began trying to re-teach him the language he had begun learning before he ditched it for reading. I spent many long hours neglecting all else. Painstakingly and at much personal and financial cost, our home became a place where every waking moment was spent working toward helping my chubby toddler regain the skill of language. At the age of 3, he began to realize the usefulness of language again. We celebrated his accomplishments, and reinforced his efforts. He became a chatterbox. He talked non-stop. Movie lines this and movie lines that. Sometimes with meaning, but mostly without.
In this clip we demonstrate a bit of the verbal ability Kaegan has. Notice that when we respond to his questions he doesn’t comment back to us on the same topic…again these were not his “real” questions, they were just pouring from his mouth. No 18 year old is going to ask theses questions…it is evident that he didn’t really want them answered. We were “polite” and answered, but ignoring it and just getting on with things would have been ideal,…he request this later on as you can see in his essay below.
Note on Technique: because of Kaegan’s display of anxiety I gave some positioning prompts to help him feel confident…hence the board being placed closer to his choosing hand to help him feel confident in spelling the answer “ESSAY.” This is a question all students would get right if they are listening and choosing as I just taught him and then asked about it. How I interact with him, is unique to him as I would not handle all students this way. That is the thing…RPM individualize for the student in the instant of learning. Two choices were a bit confusing for him, a reader, so we threw them out soon..again something unique to him, not the thing to do with all students.
Over the years, we have put in hours of work, too many tiring hours to count, to help expand his use of the English language only to feel inches of progress as he continued his mostly meaningless verbal chatter. Still, we responded and respected and appreciated every word that came from his mouth counting those words as progress and freedom. For every word that he uttered, he was considered verbal. He was able to tell me when he had needs and every now and then, he actually commented and often asked me questions about his childish interests (interests that I have now come to realize, are not his interests at all). Tantrums and yelling were common place, but at least he was yelling, I thought…at least he is verbal. He was still autistic, but verbal, which I considered progress. Even freedom.
Progress and freedom. As we progressed, we felt freedom to implement new strategies as they arose in the world of autism education. We moved from a structured yet playful ABA program to a more creative Son-Rise program. I had my finger on the pulse of autism as strategies were new and few back then. I recall the wonder over the mom who taught her son, Tito, to communicate using a letter board. Although interesting, I considered my son to be verbal with no need for a letter board. We moved on to bigger and better strategies. And, so many strategies emerged: neuro-developmental protocols, auditory sensory models of intervention, and the list goes on. We have tried numerous methods to reach our son who we knew was inside that delayed mind. As he matured into his teenage years, I found myself a little lost. I described him to a friend as my “toddler professor” who was interested, still, in Winnie the Pooh, but now for more mature reasons- as he applied physics-wonderings to the pre-school content. (if gopher fell for 16 seconds, how far did he fall?) I struggled over how to teach this boy with high school questions while maintaining what I saw as his pre-school interests. He became increasingly hungry for information as I became increasingly confused about how to satisfy his academic appetite. It was at this point that I re-discovered the methods used by that mom years ago incorporating a letter board. Still considering my guy to be verbal, I merely thought this modality to be a possible method of holding his focus while presenting the curriculum he desired. We traveled to Utah for a workshop to learn this technique from Lenae Crandall of HEED RPM with the hope that it would enable me to teach curriculum to my knowledge-hungry son. Little did I know, the 18 year old young man with typical interests and abilities would emerge as HE found freedom in the method known as RPM (Rapid Prompting Method). Stunned, I had my first conversation with my once-trapped son after 18 years of life as he pointed out the letters to spell his thoughts, his hopes, his dreams, and his opinions. It was honestly the moment I will most remember over all other moments of my life.
Note on technique: For those less familiar with RPM, I am saying the letters he is picked or is picking. I am not telling him what to spell. I didn’t know what he was going to spell.
The slight movement/little tilts and “flow” in the stencil is to keep with the rhythm and flow of his movement to keep him confident and calm/ lower anxiety so he can focus and spell what he wants to say. It is not in any way to encourage him to say any particular thing as the little movement is based off his movement. Had I held the board perfectly still (the goal) he would have struggled and would not be spelling his thoughts but concrete words he had picked in answer to a concrete questions. Again unique to his needs.
My exceptional son had never truly spoken before that day. He found his true voice with RPM. The workshop intended to teach him academic material materialized itself as the material. He had verbalized so many words over the course of many years. As it turns out, those verbalizations were not his true thoughts or interests; and he had, in actuality, been silent through all of those noisy, chatty words. The realization of his years of silence was suddenly deafening.
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.
Here he spells with more confidence so I get the board more and more steady as we progress through the session. For him the past little board movement has been critical for his confidence and success although being still is important so no one questions his word, whether they come from him or another.
If your child or student is not talking at an age appropriate level or communicating with you consistently then you can be sure that much of what is being said is likely not accurate, that there is so much more to say…and learn!
Many verbal students like Kaegan also have great motor skills that are generalized. They are able to write and type…this means that skills on the letterboard to communicate accurately what they want can be transferred to handwriting, a typing device, and verbal speech. The blessing of this is then when they write, type or talk they are saying what they want to say…it is functional and not just impulse, stims, or basic wants and needs.
RPM is education and communication for non-verbal students but for verbal too! Come join the journey!(Click HERE for Q&A about RPM on the HALO website)As Soma Mukhopadhyay said: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” (“Understanding Autism Through Rapid Prompting Method”)…and it is!