CAN MY CHILD/STUDENT START RPM IF HE/SHE CAN’T READ?
Yes! Students do not need to be able to read to start RPM. RPM is a way of teaching. Learning how to spell and read is part of it. One of the products of that teaching is communication which usually takes the form of picking from options and later spelling (whether hand-writing, pointing to letters on a letterboard, speaking, etc.). Some students come to RPM knowing how to read and some do not. RPM adapts to the age of the student, sensory system, anxieties, exposure to information. (For more on this topic see this blog.)
WHAT IF MY CHILD DOESN’T SEEM TO UNDERSTAND? CAN RPM HELP?
Yes! This is a common belief since students may behave (actions and preferences) outwardly similarly to toddlers, for example, when they are much older than that. Additionally, professionals have been telling you for years about the low functioning level of your child/student—low IQ scores, etc.
However, the testing done on students rarely accommodates and understands the imbalance or disconnect between the student’s cognitive (understanding), motor (behavior/actions) and emotions. When you deal with outliers (gifted and severe disabilities), test start to lose reliability and validity. Although we say all the time something like “he can’t feel his body” or “She is disconnected between her mind and body”—we don’t usually believe it in practice. (In other-words, we struggle to generalize this information to our instruction and interpretation of the student.)
In RPM, however, we acknowledge this and presume intelligence. We accommodate for the unique sensory needs of the student, learning style, and help the student—with prompts, letterboard position, teaching method, sensory activities etc.—to control their body so they can more accurately show their true understanding and abilities.
Teaching methods used in special education for the nonverbal or minimally verbal population, generally do not adequately address the needs of students (despite best of intentions and some great methods out there) to allow them to accurately communicate thought and be educated in a way suited to them. Remember Special Education really hasn’t been around for very long. We have made great head way, but have much further to go. We have no idea the abilities of these individuals—we really don’t know much.
As a special Educator who did RPM and for the last many years of teaching outside the school system using RPM, I have seen over and over again IQ scores of something like 10 changing to 110 after the student did RPM. (100 is an average intelligence score). That is a big switch :)
DO RPM PROVIDERS THINK MY STUDENT ALREADY KNOWS THINGS HE HASN’T BEEN EXPOSED TO?
No. In RPM, we believe students need to be taught and be exposed to information to know things. We fill in the gaps but strive to teach in an age-appropriate way.
We don’t believe all students with autism are geniuses. Some RPM students have average intelligence, some have high intelligence and a few will be a little below average—but all capable of learning and all with different high and low intelligences in different areas just like the typical population. (Acting like a toddler isn’t an indication of low intelligence. It indicates imbalances between emotions, understanding and actions and sometimes lack of exposure to concepts or sensory experiences.)
IS THERE A PRE-ASSESSMENT FOR IF MY CHILD SHOULD DO RPM?
No. We assess the student as we teach. When a student come through my door, I already presume competence/intelligence no matter what I am told about the low functioning level of your child and how much he/she really doesn’t understand. I watch the student’s hands, the way the student moves. I observe the anxiety level to figure out how to teach and interact. As I teach, I see what connections the student is making, what habits have been developed over the years (like picking both options, touching only the last one, refusal to perform) to help me know what techniques I need to use to help the student be successful. Because we want good affect—and starting with testing is one of the best ways to destroy good affect—and since RPM individualize for the student we don’t need a pre-assessment.
With time, you may want to do testing for your child on what he/she knows, but that should be once you have accuracy and consistency in the output from the student. If you do it before hand, the testing is pretty much worthless since the student will not be able to perform to his/her true cognitive level.
CAN MY STUDENT DO RPM IF HE WON’T SIT?
Yes! At first, we follow the student around and then help them get to a more contained area as we build good affect, confidence, and gain the student’s trust, etc. Eventually, that will mean the student will sit down, but not always. Some students find the chair so uncomfortable that it is the worst learning environment for the student. In RPM we are interested in adapting to the student’s needs and helping the student grow tolerance, skill, and ability with learning and functioning in this world. We don’t need a student to “look like” they are attending. We want the student to actually attend—if that means fidget with something or stand to learn, that is great. So, if the student needs to sit on a couch, walk some of the sessions, lay down, etc. we work with it.
IS RPM A CURE?
No. We are helping students be the best they can be. RPM is not “anti-autism” so to speak. We work to have respect between teacher and student. RPM does not provide a cure.
DOES RPM WORK ONLY FOR STUDENTS WITH AUTISM?
RPM works with a variety of students with a variety of disabilities. I have worked with students with no specific name for their genetic disorder but were non-verbal, angel mans, students with Down syndrome, etc. It works great.
SO, THEN WHAT IS THE GOAL OF RPM?
There are four goals in RPM:
We want students to develop skills to respond and communicate (picking from options, pointing to letters to spell, typing, handwriting, speaking) but additionally to have hobbies, careers, help themselves, serve others, etc.
Education is what fuels good communication. We teach in an age-appropriate way and pick topics appropriate for the age although we will fill in the learning gaps too.
In RPM we work to have the student communicate thoughts, reasoning, opinions in connection to the content taught as well as creative writing. RPM is formatted in a discussion form. It can be done with a group of students eventually. Many students are able to communicate outside of RPM sessions as a result.
SHOULD I DO RPM IF MY STUDENT CAN SPELL ON AN IPAD ALREADY?
Yes, if the student is only spelling out basic request, typing in favorite YouTube videos, or a list of stim words and phrases, basic social talk, repeated request, RPM can help the student learn to communicate much more depth.
Basically, if your student can’t communicate at an age-appropriate academic level, then RPM can be useful and is appropriate for the student.
SHOULD I DO RPM IF MY STUDENT CAN TALK?
Similarly, to the students who can type on an iPad, many students communicate request, repeat phrases, have limited social exchanges, can repeat information about a couple of topics but not answer questions about new topics, echo what is said, etc.
Since the student can’t communicate in speech at an age-appropriate academic level, RPM can help.
Pointing to letters to spell is a shorter pathway in the brain than speech. This is why students can spell out thoughts but not speak or can speak some but spell out much deeper thoughts.
Saying words isn’t necessarily communication. And what is communication isn’t always what the student wants to actually say, I have found. Many of my students have expressed frustration about their speech coming out like vomit (not controlled or what they want) or stuck saying the wrong thing because the purposeful, intentional pathway to speak the words he/she actually wants to say is not formed.
Instinct and impulse comes without thinking and is a different pathway than purposeful speech or movement—which is controlled and deliberate.