Tuesday, September 24, 2013

International RPM Community

Yesterday I was contacted by Sue, a woman from the UK, who started a Facebook page dedicated to RPMers around the world.  It was originally for a group in the UK and Ireland, but since she has gotten a lot of interest from Americans, she took the "UK" off the name yesterday.  She found my blog through the Halo-Soma site and wanted to get my permission to post it on the group site.  I was excited for the opportunity.  It has been my mission all along to help people through my blog, whether by changing misconceptions about autism, introducing RPM to other parents, or supporting and encouraging people already using RPM.  I chose the title Faith, Hope, Love…with Autism for many reasons.  One being that God has taught me more about these gifts through Philip than any other avenue in my life.  Another reason is that since starting RPM, I have been able to have more faith in my son, a renewed hope for his future, and an understanding that has allowed me to better demonstrate my love for Philip and others like him.

I have received a few requests from people wanting to know how I started RPM and progressed to where Philip is now.  

I first learned about RPM from Laurie, a woman in my autism support group.  I was initially skeptical but tried to investigate it on my own by reading Soma’s book and trying to replicate what I saw on Laurie’s RPM camp video.  That was not enough to get me anywhere so I stopped.  About a year later, I met Susan, whose son Michael had been doing RPM for a few years.  She showed me his letters to his classmates in regular middle school and videos showing him communicating with humor and intelligence.  She leant me the books “I Am in Here,” and “The Golden Hat.”  She told me to watch the movie A Mother’s Courage, which I did.  It made a huge impression on me.  That was enough to get me to register for my first camp with Soma in October 2012.  

The camp was the most wonderful experience.  We started to see Philip as being intelligent and capable.  He was answering questions about grade level material correctly, spelling, and even expressed what he wanted for Christmas for the first time in his life: a radio.  That week, I felt as if my son was reborn.

Returning from camp was hard.  After the initial high of going to camp and showing our family and friends Philip’s videos, a low would soon follow.  I found myself overwhelmed with trying to do what Soma did.  I didn’t know where we would work, what we would study, or how to go through a session without stumbling through it. Philip would not sit at a regular table at first.  He would slide below it or run out of his chair.  My dad had some old office dividers that he kept after he retired, so he gave them to me to make an enclosed 4x4 ft workspace.  I bought an adjustable table where we could work.  I went to my nearest bookstore and bought a comprehensive second grade curriculum workbook and used my second grade daughter’s school papers to come up with lessons (Philip should have been 4th grade but I wasn’t sure he was ready after having done preschool work all his life).  Lessons with Philip were initially tough.  He would often resist by standing on his chair or biting his pencil.  I eventually had him point because he was ruining so many pencils!  Sometimes I would follow him around the room with all my paper and there would be ripped choices all over the floor.  

Philip went through a ladder of progression in his skills.  The first month we spent just picking from choices.  Philip would even have trouble with that.  Sometimes he would just pick from one side.  Sometimes he consistently picked the wrong choice!  I experimented with placing the pieces of paper farther apart, tapping on the choices, holding them up, and making one choice completely absurd.  Eventually he got it.  Once he was more consistent with choices, I moved onto picking the choice and then spelling it.  We used the 3 large stencils at first.  I would say the spelling in a sing-song voice just as Soma did at camp.  “W for winter, I for inter, N for nter, E for er, R for r.”  I noticed Philip became good at spelling for academic subjects pretty quickly.  We were able to fade the paper choices and move to the 26-letter stencil pretty easily, but we’d go back to the choices and 3-stencil set if he got tired or started answering wrongly.  However, he wouldn’t answer open ended questions for the longest time.  Between our first camp and our second which was 7 months later, Philip probably only answered 5 open ended questions.  Another thing that took awhile for Philip to click was math.  He would often point to the last number he heard.  If I asked “what is 7+3,” he would point to 3.  If I asked him to point to 23, he would point to 3, then 2.  For some reason, a breakthrough in math came only when, at the suggestion of my friend Susan, I put a few random coins on the table and asked him the value.  He astounded me by coming up with the right value!  Susan had told me her son Michael preferred a challenge and even told her to start at a higher level and then come down if needed, rather than start at too low a level.  That seemed to apply to Philip too.  Once Philip’s teacher sent home a list of spelling words.  They were easy words like cat and tree.  He spelled the first 2 words on the list correctly, but then started pointing to random letters by the third word.  I decided to give him riddles about the words instead.  Only then did he resume spelling the words correctly.  By the time we saw Soma the second time, Philip was very good at spelling one word answers for academic lessons.  He was still inconsistent in math and open ended questions.

The second time Philip saw Soma was in May of 2013 during a workshop my support group organized in Buffalo, NY.  Again, Philip astounded us by spelling in sentences, making conversation, and even writing a story.  He started multiplication with Soma and picked it up in minutes.  One morning Philip spelled with Soma, “I AM IN A GOOD EARLY MORNING MOOD.”  “What does that make you want to do?” asked Soma.  “TALK,” spelled Philip.  “With your voice?” “YES.” 

I believe Soma has the rare gift of opening the window of a child’s potential so we can get a glimpse of the true person inside.  She gives one hope to work hard to not only keep the window open, but to open it further.  As we started working with Philip after the second meeting with Soma, I stepped up what I had been doing.  I now give him more challenging work at grade level.  I ask him what he wants to talk about.  He actually likes to talk about autism- a lot.  My faith in Philip has grown.  I treat him as smart, capable, and having much to teach me and others.  I have started exposing him to experiences I would have never tried in the past- having a playdate with kids both autistic and neurotypical, conversing on his letterboard with someone at church, including him in dinner conversation with the extended family.  Philip has risen to the occasion each time.  I now give Philip power over this blog.  He knows our mission and he proofreads and gives final approval of everything I post.                     

I feel truly blessed to be a part of an international autism community practicing RPM.  We need to work together to spur each other on to continue the progress in each of our kids.  In addition we have the awesome privilege of being agents of change in how the world sees autism and how we can provide real help and hope to those whose voices are unheard.  

Philip's first visit with Soma Oct. 2012

Philip's first office.  We had to start with minimal distractions. We are now able to do RPM anywhere, but our preference is now the dining room table.

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