Friday, February 21, 2014

Studying Autism

I have been reading Philip the book Understanding Autism through Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) by Soma Mukhopadhyay who first developed the method to help her own autistic son Tito.  In the prologue Soma writes, “Martin Luther King Jr. once dreamed of a world where his children would ‘not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’  My dream is that individuals with autism should also be judged by the content of their character, not by their diagnostic label, nor by the unusual behaviors that often cause them to be segregated from typical society.  Our challenge is to give them the exposure of education and ability to communicate so that their character can be revealed and held up as worthy.” (p. 1)  This book, Soma’s first,  is dedicated to the “why” of RPM.  It explains the neuroscience behind autism and the adaptation process that comes about from an altered development of the brain and sensory system.  It has been quite a learning experience for both me and Philip to go through the book together.  For Philip, understanding his neurology better is helping him to understand why certain things are hard for him and how he can make adjustments to adapt better to situations that are difficult.  In the same way, understanding Philip gives me the tools to adjust my expectations and help Philip better.      

This morning, I asked Philip what he wanted to do today.  Instead of choosing an outing this time, he spelled, “I WANT TO BLOG.  I AM COUNTING ON HEARING MORE OF SOMA’S BOOK.”

In the previous chapters of Soma’s book Philip learned about the stages of cognitive development in normal versus autistic individuals, altered sensory development in autism, and adaptive behaviors in autistic individuals.  Today I read Philip chapter 6 which was in a Q&A format discussing common behaviors in autism and what might be the reason behind them.  I presented the questions from the book and Philip gave me his own insight.  We got through half of the chapter.  This is the discussion which transpired.

(Reading from book) Why is Sam staring only at the corner of the room?

I am blocking out sights from becoming too intense. I look out the side of my eyes to concentrate on detail and not get distracted.

Why couldn’t Sam bring me the book when I asked him to?

I am each day attending to so many things all at once.  I have a hard time focusing on what I am supposed to do.  I am each time trying to heed to my task at hand.  I sometimes get distracted.  

Why does Sam get upset about the window blinds being turned in a different direction?

I like attending to new things.  Each day each new interesting thing is mean to my senses.  I am anxious at first but I want to have fun too.  I am interested in a lively life.  Each day it is good to do more new things.  I am getting better at this.

If Sam has developed alternative means to adjust to the environment, what can be done to make the best use of it?

I think education is so important.  It helps me understand the normal world.  It helps me not think of my own world as much.  My own world is good for nothing.  I stim away my life there.  In Autismland you are alone all the time.  I am glad I am not there anymore.

*This entry is dedicated to Cindi and her teacher Lenae whose blog Cindi's Blog inspired us to also study from Soma's book.  Cindi is 12 and non-verbal and has been wanting to study the differences between autistic and normal minds.  She is seeking input on her blog from ALL people, neurotypical and autistic.  Philip has left his comment.  Please help her out by visiting her research page and commenting. 

 Philip, age 4, at Everglades Elementary TEACCH program in Miami


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  2. I love the idea of reading Soma's books together. Did you create a RPM lesson with each reading of the book (ask questions as you read to Philip) or just read him the book? I would love to try this with my student as well.

    1. I've mostly been reading the book in short sections and then asking him content questions and then reflecting/ personal questions at the end. I do like the idea of making more lesson plans for some of the more technical parts of the book though. I will give it a try. Let me know how it goes with your student. Thanks for commenting!