A very encouraging thing happened last week during our RPM-Autism Workshop. Two special education professors from a local college came with all their students. They filled our observation room. It was fantastic! At the end of the workshop, one of the professors asked the last question of the day, “Parents, what do you want these future teachers to know about your children?” Parents’ voices popcorned throughout the room. “Please assume my child is intelligent. Don’t talk down to him.” “Try to understand why a kid behaves as he does. Don’t just treat the behavior.” “Be open minded about how different kids may learn in different ways.” “Be patient. Treat each kid with respect and in a manner you yourself would want to be treated.”
It was a beautiful picture: parents teaching teachers how to teach their children. In my experience throughout the years, we parents have often had it backwards. We expected doctors, teachers, therapists, psychologists, behaviorists, social workers, and everyone else to teach us about our children and about how to teach them. In some cases we even left the care and instruction of our kids primarily to other people. I remember vividly going to support groups in the early years and everybody comparing notes about how many hours their child received ABA from various students and providers. They would talk about all the extra services on top of that: speech, OT, PT, music therapy, riding therapy, swimming. They would talk about all the biomedical interventions their child was on. There was also a lot of anger throughout these meetings about battling the school for more speech or lamenting that certain services were discontinued. It seemed more was always better. I always left feeling worse than when I first came. I felt like I had to compete with other parents to get more therapies for Philip if I were to be a good mother.
RPM is different. For us it brought back the natural order of family relationships. Sam and I would be the number one experts in our child and we would be his greatest teachers. As I became empowered in my ability to parent Philip, I began to see things more clearly. Filling up Philip’s days running around town to extra speech and OT just wasn’t benefitting him. The behaviorists who came to my house didn’t really know why Philip behaved the way he did. They could only guess. Finally I could ask Philip and he could tell me himself on his letterboard!
As parents we have the opportunity, indeed we have the obligation, to teach our teachers about our children and how to work towards his or her greatest potential. This is what it truly means to be our child’s advocate. It is not simply to be his manager. It is to know our child’s wishes and desires and make them known so people can come alongside them and help them achieve their goals for themselves and for living in the world.
Yesterday I had two of Philip’s teachers over to demonstrate how we have been working at home. Philip spelled GEOGRAPHY to select one of two lessons I presented. I did a mini-lesson on various landforms and Philip answered questions. Philip also showed some of his typing skills on my laptop by shadowing responses from letterboard to keyboard. One of his teachers was very impressed with how Philip spelled geography. “How did he do that? How did he learn?” I told her Philip learns a lot by listening. He can spell phonetically. When he makes a mistake, I teach him the correct spelling. Philip can read too. He told me he could read since age 4. He learned from books. His favorite was “Love You Forever.” I used to read him that story every night. He also told me the first thing he ever read was “STOP” from the stop sign. I then showed the teachers how you would start with RPM from choices to spelling. The teachers were very nice but knew their boundaries of what they were allowed to do at school. We discussed a happy medium where ABA overlapped RPM. I was glad to be able to show the teachers first-hand how I worked with Philip. As they left, I gave each one a copy of the book Ido in Autismland and told them it was the first book I read that really resonated with me as to how Philip experiences the world. They said they would read it and that they wanted to do all they could to help Philip the best they were able. The meeting gave me a lot of hope. After they left, Philip spelled, “I LIKED THAT THEY CAME.”
It is a good feeling to be in the driver’s seat with Philip as the navigator to lead the team who will work on Philip’s behalf. The fact is Philip will always need teachers, aides, therapists, doctors, social workers, and many other people for him to succeed in life. Now we can work more effectively because Philip can finally show us the way!
Miami Springs River Festival April 2006