RPM Caution and Tips
We each come to RPM with different expectations, life experiences, and beliefs. As we discover our student's or child's potential, we additionally have different interpretations and reactions.
When I first started RPM, I was looking for answers for my students, both education wise and communication wise. Sometimes I got so excited about the communication that the tolerance, education, and skill goals weren't achieved as they needed to be. I learned through trial and error in addition to my training how important each of these four goals are.
When education, tolerance, and skill goals began to be de-emphasized ironically the communication also suffered. Being excited about the communication is normal and healthy. However, hyper-focusing on it, can lead to problems both for the parent or teacher and the student or communicator.
RPM is a method whereby a student is taught. The methodology empowers the learner to communicate as well as empowering with other skills, thereby enabling the learner to function as independently as possible if goals continue to be set. Tolerance, skill, education, and communication goals should continually be set. Different emphasis will happen at different points in the journey, but all will continue to be important.
I write this from my own experiences, training, and by observation or stories of hundreds of families using RPM and their teachers.
Cautions and Tips for Parents/Teachers:
1- Education for your child/student, is just as important as education for "typical" students. We are educated so we can connect with others in society, develop our thinking and reasoning skills, learn tools and skills to service, develop intrigue, pursue happiness, obtain an occupation, and for many other reasons. Therefore, general education content should be similar to that of their 'typical' peers. Specialty content depends on the student - their aspirations, talents, social groups they are around, etc. The education goals are important.
2-Your child/student doesn't know everything. He or she needs to be taught. There is a myth that students remember everything and know everything. I thought this about a few of my students at first too. But I haven't found a case where this is literally true--although many have fantastic memories. Unfortunately (or fortunately), we have to do the "hard" work of giving experiences, teaching, and educating for our students to learn, just like everyone else. Check your technique, keep improving in RPM, keep educating your student. Otherwise, the student can be cheated of valuable learning.
3-It isn't hard to influence, don't rush the process. Moving the board around obviously has high potential to influence a student. But emotional influence or just small movements can influence too. I caution you in getting overly concerned about this making it challenging for the student to progress, but also to disregard this possibility. An individual who is blind will compensate with other senses. An individual who is non-verbal or has an alternate sensory processing system will also compensate with heightened senses--perhaps the sixth sense. Know how and when it is ok to prompt and what prompts to use.
4-Be careful of pedestaling your child/student. Most parents think their children are great. Some say "if you are half the person your mother thinks you are, then you are pretty good." I am not talking about parents thinking the world of your child--that is normal and healthy. I am not referring to the fact that some students have certain gifts and talents. (Many people do) I am talking about putting your child's/student's words above parenting them, above your own best judgement. For example, 6-year-old Johnny shouldn't be evaluating his ABA therapist and whatever he says, goes. 6-year-old Johnny can say if he likes the therapist, but his mind is still developing the critical thinking skills to know what is best for him. He still needs his parents to make decisions for what is best for his life. (19-year-old, Ritvik, is a different situation.) This leads to the next point.
5-Just because your child/student spelled it, it doesn't make it true. Students can lie. Students can unintentionally say an untrue thing. Students may perceive situations through their alternate sensory system different than reality (as can you). Students can have opinions. If, for example, your 9-year-old student/child, Lindsey spells "I know college math and remember everything," that doesn't make it so. Lindsey may be good at math, but does Lindsey have exposure to college level math? How does she know that she knows college level math? Perhaps Lindsey remembers a lot, but does she remember what she doesn't remember forgetting? Lindsey, like anyone, could be hoping to get out of work, or she might have developed a myth about herself. Lindsey, like anyone else, would need to "prove it" honestly before skipping all that math instruction. (And what about the visual tolerance to perform the higher level math?) It is important for teachers and parents to help her gain the tolerance skills to continue doing math, develop a healthy and positive self-esteem without having a myth about herself.
6-If you wouldn't let your "typical" child/student do it, don't let your RPM student do it. This will keep you out of a lot of uncomfortable situations. You can't hear the tone of voice when something is spelled. Keep that in mind. Students are learning, in some cases, for the first time the power of their words, the consequences of what they say, and the ethics of communicating. Support them, believe in them, but help them stay healthy and avoid developing myths about themselves. For example, let's say 12-year-old Helen communicates, "Our neighbor isn't happy. Tell him God says he needs to move to Mexico where it is warm. Tell him to do it now. I love him and want him happy." This is likely a well meaning message spelled by a compassionate student. Helen may actually firmly believe God told her that, or may think she is supposed to say that to be loved or powerful like she desires, or she may be joking and want to see what happens when you do it, or she might just have an opinion that she decided to express with power, etc. Before marching over to your neighbor and telling him Helen's message, ask yourself, 'if my typical child told me this, would I do it?' 'How would I react if my typical child told me to do this?' I caution you in saying 'this is different.' Is it? Why is spelling something different than saying it? Does a letterboard give a student extra powers?
I've personally seen some uncomfortable, creepy, and sad situations happen when these messages are taken authoritatively (usually by very well intended educators or parents) or other actions taken that you wouldn't allow your "typical" student to act on.
Educate your student. Teach them social skills and how to express opinions or thoughts. Let them experience life.
NOTE: I am not knocking or targeting religion, spirituality, etc here. Students can have gifts, tendency, etc in all types of areas just as the typical population can. Many witness to being guided and blessed by God, a light, the Universe (etc) in their personal lives. I am not referring to that.
7-Education leads to communication, so teach a variety of topics. If you feed a person knowledge and experiences, you tend to get deeper, broader, and more interesting discussions. Without education it is easy for students to stagnate on skills or loop through the same topics. If you only teach what the student is interested in, many students become rigid, or don't progress, etc. You can connect lessons to interest, but always feed new information.
8-Avoid communication only and constantly presenting the letterboard. If you drop the skill, education, and tolerance goals, you may lose a lot of ground. Continue to implement RPM in full and you will make a lot more progress. Many students who stop doing lessons and just chat have what I will call a "decay of skills." The spelling gets sloppier, the messages get repetitive, some don't know what to say so they get emotionally influenced or emotionally exhausted in all the emotions and excitement leading to shut down. If you drop RPM and only do communication you may find the student stagnates or becomes rigid and refuses any learning time, thus stopping the development of skills and independence. Emotional dysregulation is often common.
Over using the board, can have similar results...it may lead to violent behavior, freezing and very slow spelling, frustration, shut down, stagnation of skills, etc. Some students can do a lot of communicating and others don't do well with it outside sessions. Know your student.
9-Teach in an age appropriate way. A 15-year-old who hasn't been exposed to addition will need to be taught addition, but you will not teach it the same way as you do to a kindergartener. You teach them like they are 15-years-old. This helps the student develop the self-esteem and self-concept needed for success. Additionally, we all perform better when we are respected.
10-Let the student enjoy the age and stage they are at. Help a 7-year-old experience being 7-years-old. Help a 13-year-old experience being 13-years-old. That is healthy and important for their growth. Their life might be different than someone else their age, but they don't need to live as a very young child all their life or an adult until they are of age.
RPM requires commitment and dedication to receive all RPM has to offer. Once a student can communicate, life isn't all rosy--good things take effort. If you have made these mistakes, it is ok. All of us are learning. I suggest going back to Soma's books on RPM and study, train, or retrain. All is not lost. I made many of these mistakes, that is why I knew to write them down. I'm getting better. I am still learning. You can too! Keep up the good work!
Leave a Reply.
Certified Special Education Teacher and certified provider of SomaRPM.