Philip has been learning and communicating through the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) since October 2012, but the groundwork for his ability to read and spell was laid years before, without anyone but Philip knowing it.
When you see a non-speaking person spelling out his or her thoughts on a letterboard or keyboard, at first it seems a very incongruent sight. Many of us harbor a preconceived notion that a person who does not speak does not think either. It is this prejudice that made the term "dumb" synonymous with mute or non-speaking. It is logical for people to ask, after they witness my son spelling, "How did he learn to read and spell?"
Philip tells me on his letterboard he was 3 or 4 when he learned to read. When we started to get worried about Philip not speaking, Philip's Lola (Grandmother) bought him a sturdy set of cardboard flash cards with pictures of words from A-Z with the corresponding text of the word. (As a side note, Philip's ABA flash cards only had pictures without the text. He did not play with those.). Philip loved his cardboard flash cards and would carry them wherever he went. He would spend much of his free time lining them up in a beautiful fan formation. Taking my cue from Philip's love for his flash cards, I made homemade flash cards with each family member, close friend, and teachers' pictures on them with their name printed below. Philip wrote about his flash cards saying, "I used to line up my flash cards. To people it was understood as a stim. I was teaching myself to read. I played with words in my head. I very much like reading."
Philip was taught in the ABA way for many years. He says at first he enjoyed it, but in time he grew bored and resented the repetition and his inability to demonstrate progress in his drills and in his ability to communicate. He wrote, "At home I studied a lot. My mom did each lesson (ABA drills from school) too, so much I got mad at learning. I meant to learn new things, but all I got was hearing the same stories over and over. I did learn how to read though. Read Love You Forever and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. I learned to role (play) like my mom telling the story. I would practice reading in my head. I smiled I could understand words on paper. Each day I played with those words in my head. I would see words in my head and arrange them in stories and meanings."
Philip also learned to read from church. He wrote, "At my church they played videos of worship songs. I used to match the words on the screen with the words sang. I learned to read."
Other ways Philip learned to read were from street signs and words on TV.
Today I asked Philip how he learned to spell. Here is his answer:
"I learned to spell from Soma. She showed me how to write on the stencils the words I already knew how to read. I love Soma because she showed me how to communicate. To decide to write not only saved me from silence, it gave me a purpose: is to teach each autistic how to speak for themselves and to sometimes speak for those who cannot."
Philip and his flash cards at age 3