It has been an exciting week having Philip's essay published in The Buffalo News and subsequently picked up by The Mighty and Yahoo News. We have received so much love and positive feedback, a few skeptical comments (and that's ok), and lots of questions. Today, I'd like to give you my overview of what RPM is.
The essays Philip has written in this blog were typed letter by letter on a keyboard and saved onto a tablet computer. Earlier essays were spelled on a letterboard and transcribed by me, his mom, into a notebook. Philip was unable to express his thoughts until our family learned Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) from Soma Mukhopadhyay. Prior to RPM, Philip had many therapies and interventions standard to autism: Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), speech therapy, occupational therapy, alternative medicine, Relationship Development Intervention, and special education. Although he gained something from each thing he tried, it wasn’t until we used RPM that Philip could express what he was really thinking and feeling in ways most others could understand. It finally bridged the communication gap between Philip and us.
RPM was developed by Soma Mukhopadhyay, (affectionately called “Soma” by people who have come to know her) to teach her own autistic son Tito in India. In India there were not the many therapy options I have had in the United States. According to Soma, when she asked the doctor what she should do for her son after receiving the autism diagnosis, the doctor replied, “Keep him busy.” So Soma took him at his word and made the most of her time figuring out her son and coming up with a way to teach and reach her son. After spending some time with Soma through organizing workshops in my area and then training with her in Austin, I have come to the conclusion that she is one of the smartest people I have ever known. Her observations about how Tito interacted with his environment through the different senses, as well as her understanding of his movement differences, helped her come up with the practice of what is now known as RPM. When Tito was 12, he wrote his first book. From then on, mother and son were to be recognized and sought out for understanding autism and how to harness the hidden potential from autistic people who could not communicate in a conventional manner.
So what is RPM? RPM is a teaching method that addresses the difficulties in sensory processing and executive functioning that often accompany autism and other disabilities. An RPM session consists of an age appropriate lesson such as a lesson in science or social studies that a typical developing child might take at school. The lesson is given in a way that stimulates the senses to focus on what is being taught. Interesting lessons are told in engaging ways, like a story, rather than in a monotonous droning way. Key words or illustrations are written on paper in front of the student to stimulate visual learning. The student is asked to respond in a back and forth manner to demonstrate understanding of the material. The student responds first by making choices between two written answers. Eventually the student learns to spell on a letter stencil, flat letterboard, or keyboard. Prompting is often necessary to keep the student focused, initiate movement toward the letterboard, and encourage the completion of the task. Contrary to what might be thought, physical prompts are not used to help lead a child to an answer. You won’t see hand-over-hand contact in RPM. The teacher treats the student respectfully by believing he is capable of learning at an age appropriate level and using regular conversation that is not reduced to commands and praise for compliance. The combination of knowledge through a broad education, reasoning skills from interactive learning, and respectful treatment through presuming intelligence and competence in the learner, provides a springboard to meaningful communication of original thoughts and feelings.
What is RPM not? RPM is not a cure for autism. Its goal is not to make a person lose his autistic qualities. Rather, the goal is to work in cooperation with the autistic neurology with its stims, alternate sensory patterns, and movement differences to accommodate regular learning and communication. Ironically, the results of RPM have helped Philip alleviate the most distressing aspects of his autism. Over the 3 years of doing RPM, Philip’s self-injury diminished to where he has not banged his head in over a year. Philip finally completed toilet training. The boy who could not tolerate going to loud places like an auditorium or trying new activities is now fully immersed in going to concerts, sports events, and theater, and getting involved in biking, ice skating, and soccer. He is also able to be included in mainstream learning and activities. RPM is not an easy miracle. Because the child cannot help himself in the beginning, success is really dependent on the child’s primary caregiver, often a parent, being committed to spending time learning how to implement RPM, making good lessons, and practicing regularly with the child. Gains come only with consistency and hard work.
We will be forever grateful to Soma and Tito for sharing RPM with the world. We would not be where we are today without them.
To find out more about RPM, visit HALO's website. You can also view videos showing Philip's progress so far using RPM.
Meeting Soma for the first time- October 2012