Many of us in special education have come across the term ‘generalizing.’ An individual that can generalize can automatically transfer a skill learned in one environment (with specific people, at a particular location, using familiar tools, etc) to another…she possesses the ability to assimilate and accommodate information. State test and IEP goals often require a statement for generalizing. An IEP goal might end with the words “with at least three different people and environments.” The intent is that a student can perform a skill when it is needed and not just for a particular person or only in a certain place. Professionals and parents want students to be able to use skills functionally.
Many students learn a skill in one location or with one person, but fail to automatically transfer the skill to new situations. We often hear “he says goodbye at school, but he won’t at home,” or “she puts her dishes away at home, but not at school,” or “she will use PECS for her teacher, but hides them at home…” For many people with autism or atypical neurology, difficulty in generalizing is a real struggle. Failure to accomplish a learned skill in a new setting is usually not a behavior nor does it reflect true intelligence and understanding. It is a consequence of mental mapping, alternate sensory systems, and equilibrium which strongly affect the ability to assimilate and accommodate information. But consider for a moment that the ability to generalize presents a challenge for all people at some level at some time or another.
When I was a college student I would go to a building on campus for math during the week. On Sunday, in this same building I attended worship services. I entered at different parts of the building for math and worship. It took me a number of weeks before I connected the two….they felt like two separate buildings. During the week I knew how to find certain rooms and on Sunday I knew how to find other rooms in the same building…I had all the relevant information, yet my disconnect illustrates the delay in accommodating and assimilating the information.
A more detailed explanation of mental mapping, assimilating and accommodating are explained in “Understanding Autism Through Rapid Prompting Method” by Soma Mukhopadhyay. (I recommend the first 8 chapters to understand your student/child’s behavior and to improve implementation of RPM or any teaching method for that matter), so I will not elaborate here except to say that if you want your child to transfer skills mastered at school to the home, or skills mastered at home to be transferred to the school setting, you must teach those same skills in both environments. Often this requires using the same strategies or implementing methods with fidelity. Parents and schools often need training on the techniques, methods, and routines used to teach skills so that they can transfer from one environment to the other. It will be heartening to know that generalization itself is a skill that improves with time and practice. As the student learns the skill in novel places with new teachers/relatives and friends, they often begin to generalize the skill more rapidly with each situation.
While many recognize and appreciate the real difficulty students have in generalizing skills from one environment to another, parents and teachers often overlook this struggle when it involves skills relevant to RPM, such as spelling. Some professionals have tried to use the argument that if a skill can’t be duplicated with someone else it is not valid or real. This absurd and harmful assertion ignores the reality of mental mapping, alternate wiring, assimilation and accommodation–generalizing. Parents are not immune to this false reasoning. Some become concerned that their child spells well at a camp with Soma or with another RPM practitioner, but when their child returns home, her behavior suggests she hasn’t the slightest clue what a letter is. Can RPM therefore be real? Was the practitioner making her say something? Why won’t she do it for me? Maybe she doesn’t want to communicate?
Yes, RPM is real; and no, the practitioner is not a puppet master. Home has many emotional associations and children returning to the home environment where they were never previously expected or required to perform RPM with a parent may even show initial resistance to it. Yet time after time we have seen that proper implementation, time, and persistence improves both parent and student skills as well as the student’s determination to communicate. Learning RPM, both as a student and a teacher takes much learning, studying, and practice, as it does for most skills.
Here are some videos to illustrate this issue. The first shows the student spelling with me. The student has learned the skills with me. The pointing is intentional. There are clearly words being spelled:
Now look at this video. Here the individual (most dedicated grandpa I know!) working with her is not trained in RPM and hasn’t worked with her on RPM. He ask her to spell ‘yes.’ Notice that she is tapping at the board randomly like she is lost (stimming) although at one point she gets the Y and the E. This is not a behavior. She can’t spell for him….yet.
As you can see…the spelling in the first video is “real.” The motor planning and aim are very distinctively different than the motor planning in the second video. To get to where she is at in the first video took a lot of practice, but she practiced and improved. (If it wasn’t real she would not have improved her motor skills. It is impossible for it not to be real if you think about it.)
Here is what she wrote in connection to this topic:
The thing is help is in belief. The life I led was awful with no way to communicate. I want to spell but I can’t focus. I can only spell well for my teacher. I want to spell well for others but I make mistakes. In the first place, why would I want to be silent? In the second place why would I want to mess up? I would not. I have a crazy body that does weird things. I think I usually have control but not always. I want to talk but can’t. Why would I have no more to plead if my regular peers do and they do talk? I am a human. I want to talk. I need to communicate. I am not mean and want to ignore you. I love others. Love me too.
Spelling, motor, tolerance, and other skills learned in RPM can be generalized from person to person, from environment to environment, but it takes practice, perserverance, study, belief, and proper implementation. For more helps and tips see: http://heedrpm.com/attitude-and-beliefs-to-improve-your-experience-with-rpm/ and http://heedrpm.com/ideas-to-successfully-learn-and-implement-rpm-what-to-do/
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