Category Archives: Communication

Silent Advocates

I am happy to let you know about two new books that rely on the writings of autistic typers to understand autism. Professor Edlyn Pena of Cal Lutheran University has edited two compilations of essays, one more scholarly and in-depth, the other using more contributors, but briefer. I have contributed my two cents to both books.
Last weekend people came to Cal Lutheran University for a conference celebrating the books’ publications and met with eight of the ten contributors to Communication Alternatives. It was a happy day seeing the changes in attitude and recognition since I started on my typing journey.
I hope this film from the conference will move you. Our messages are honest and truthful. They are also messages from autistic people themselves.

I hate to be a pain, but I felt I must juxtapose the last film with this one. This is what we are up against. Who do you trust to understand autism better?

No more talking about us without us.

The Anniversary of “In Two Worlds”

It is the anniversary of the publication of my greatest achievement, my novel, In Two Worlds. Why do I say my greatest achievement? After all, my first book, Ido in Autismland, is better known. The answer covers many things.

I know many typers with autism who have written books. They are all nonfiction memoirs or essays, as is Ido in Autismland. To my knowledge, In Two Worlds is the first, and only, novel of fiction, narrative and dialogue ever written by a nonspeaking autistic person about the autistic experience.

It is for this reason that I brag a bit. I understand autism. I understand my inner world and I understand the inner experience of In Two Worlds’ wonderful hero, Anthony. You, the reader, experience autism through his eyes. You experience the visual sensory kaleidoscope that overwhelms him time and again. You experience his anguish at being motor trapped in his body unable to show anyone he understands.

That is, anyone except you, the reader, because you hear his thoughts. Only Anthony and the reader are privy to his mind. Everyone else in his life misses his interior because his exterior is so compromised.

In Two Worlds, a BookLife Prize quarterfinalist in fiction, has been compared by readers to important past works of fiction that shed light on other mistreated or misunderstood peoples, and whose plight once depicted in these novels inspired societal change for the better.

And who is more misunderstood by others than a person who can’t speak or communicate thoughts? Who is more misunderstood than a person who cannot show he is intelligent and is physically controlled by motor compulsions that appear nonsensical?

The first part of the novel is devoted to Anthony’s life before he can communicate. He is frustrated, lonely, and underestimated by everybody, family and professionals, and bored of baby talk and baby lessons. He lives his life waiting, hoping, stimming, and finally he gives up because year after year nothing changes for him. Until one day he finally meets his liberator, Marina, who teaches him at 16 how to type to communicate and from this his entire life changes.

The world of autism, as anyone familiar with my blog knows, is filled with powerful opinionated educators, specialists and dolts. They do not take challenges to their theories lightly. Anthony is liberated by being able to communicate, but many new struggles are just beginning for him as he now must fight for his right to an education and to be recognized as a sentient being. It is not an easy journey.

I invite you to read In Two Worlds if you haven’t already. I invite you to review In Two Worlds and would be grateful if you did. It is a book for everyone. Not just for those of us inundated by Autismland. I did not write the book for us. I wrote it for the world to understand us. I wrote it for book clubs, libraries, and teenagers, to give to friends, to open eyes, to open minds, and to open hearts.

Assume Competence

The current debate in autism education is between those who assume competence, have expectations of intelligence, and as a result, frequently discover minds that think behind the autistic mask. The other school of thought is reflected in this statement by ASHA. That is, to assume competence is abusive somehow. I know what presuming incompetence does. It deadens hope and kills expectation. It makes seeing the ability impossible.

No one is claiming everyone is brilliant, just that fewer nonspeakers than the experts believe, are dumb. I prefer to believe that nonspeakers may have intellectual skills not immediately evident for a variety of reasons. See here for some reasons.

Look for intelligence and you discover more. Look for disability and you get stuck in limitations.

Please enjoy this Ted Talk on finding competence by Vaish Sarathy.

Communication is a Human Right

I write because it’s my mission. I still have to deal with my own autistic struggles. But I know my words are heard and I feel blessed to learn how they have helped to liberate my autistic peers from silence, given hope to families and changed the minds of professionals. I value whenever someone takes the time to share because I know that stories can be painful or slow to communicate.

This article is from Ireland, written by mother, Adrienne Murphy and her son, Caoimh (pronounced Keev). I share the whole story below and the link to the paper. Together mother and son are on a journey to help others in Ireland. I feel deeply honored to know that my books helped them on their way. Caoimh writes about “stone people” and “right people,” to represent those trapped in Autismland and those representing normalcy. On the side of Autismland there is a familiar resignation to stims. To step into normalcy requires a huge effort. One must be motivated. The experts have a bad tendency to diminish motivation and Autismland has a tendency to seduce with magic distractions. So every escape to communication is a victory, even as it is a struggle. Thank you to Adrienne and Caoimh for fighting on and for sharing my message in Dublin, Ireland.

Autism Turned Inside Out
Independent.ie

by Adrienne Murphy

What do the statements below have in common, and which is the odd-one-out?

1. The sun rotates around the earth.

2. Deaf people have low intelligence.

3. Autism is an emotional disorder caused by cold mothers.

4. Severe non-speaking autism involves an inability to understand language; and an intellectual disability, ie, a low IQ.

Answer: All four statements – once accepted as fact – have been proven to be incorrect. Statement 4 is the odd-one-out, because it’s still widely believed. But we know it’s false, because more and more non-speaking autistic people are acquiring age-appropriate communication – for the first time in history – through learning to point at letters.

What these historically misunderstood people say about their condition is overthrowing the prevailing dogma, which equates non-speaking with a failure to understand. (‘Non-speaking’ here includes minimal, non-reliable and nonsensical speech.)

The most famous severely autistic non-speaking person is Japan’s Naoki Higashida, who communicated his memoir when he was 13 by pointing at an alphabet board. His book was translated and published in 2013 by KA Yoshida and her husband, the author David Mitchell, as the bestselling The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice from the Silence of Autism.

A film version, due out next year, will add momentum to the Copernican revolution required in our understanding of severe autism, if we are to get to the truth of this perplexing, complex, neurological condition, which expresses itself differently in every individual who has it.

Also leading the charge in this new, from-the-inside-out understanding of severe autism, is 22-year-old non-speaking American, Ido Kedar. Kedar’s memoir Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison, written between the age of 13 and 15; and his work of fiction from last year, In Two Worlds, the first novel ever published by a severely autistic non-speaking person – are revolutionary.

*****

Severe autism is an extreme disability. People with Asperger’s Syndrome and ‘high-functioning’ autism have far greater potential to live independent lives than severely autistic people, who are an entirely different subset on the spectrum.

Alongside having restricted, or non-existent, communication through speech, severely autistic people often need help performing the simplest of practical life skills. Their tendency to erratic, impulsive and uncontrollable body movements and behaviours, and their extreme sensory sensitivity and concomitant stress reactions to their environment, necessitate 24-hour supervision. (There is no question of a severely autistic adult being capable of taking a bus and safely heading off on their own into town for the day.)

The prevailing theory is that severe autism entails not only intellectual disability (major cognitive impairment and low IQs), but also a language processing disorder. In other words, the widespread view is that severely autistic people can’t understand what’s said to them, let alone read. Entire professions – including psychiatry, psychology, speech and language therapy, and special education – base their interventions on this theory of severe autism.

Caoimh, my non-speaking 15-year-old son, is amongst the first Irish pioneers to dig their way out from the buried world of severe autism, into full communication through the use of a letter-pointing finger.

Caoimh is so severely disabled in terms of his care needs, that by the time he turned 14 – when adolescent anxiety tipped him into dangerous self-injury and violence – I had no other choice, as a single parent with another son called Fiach, but to battle publicly with the HSE until they provided residential care for Caoimh.

Caoimh has settled greatly over the last year with the help of the many therapists and social care staff who work with him. The process of moving into care was made infinitely easier by the fact that he, before leaving home, had learned to communicate by pointing at letters.

On admission into his residential service, Caoimh underwent yet another psychological assessment (he has had many down the years). Currently, more and more professional question marks are being raised over the accuracy of the tools used to measure IQ in severe autism, with large numbers of psychologists now conceding that we are probably drastically underestimating intelligence. Caoimh’s new psychologist agreed to let him use his letter board to spell out answers to her questions.

In doing this, she presumed cognitive competence instead of intellectual disability, and used a testing tool that is normally reserved for people who can answer questions through speech.

Caoimh is not able yet to hold his letter board himself. It must be held for him, at a particular angle. Since he can’t cross his midline with his right hand, and since he has difficulty raising his hand high, his board must be held quite low, and over to his right; if it is put directly in front of him, or too high up, he is incapable of accessing the letters on the left or at the top of the board.

Despite Caoimh’s need for a person, trained in his letter-pointing method, to hold his letter board for him, the psychologist was easily able to see that it was definitively Caoimh answering the increasingly difficult questions that she put to him, not his assistant.

The upshot is that it is now professionally verified that Caoimh can communicate at a highly intelligent, self-aware level. Caoimh’s therapists and social care staff communicate with Caoimh in this way. He fills out his own questionnaires, and describes the nature of his multiple disabilities. The guess work has largely been taken out of his case. At school, Caoimh is now also typing, to show his comprehension of honours-level Junior Cert subjects.

*****

Until Caoimh acquired letter-pointing skills at age 12, his communication was limited to expressing basic needs and wants through the use of pictures. He was ‘locked in’. No one knew Caoimh’s true intelligence; he had no way of showing it; and he was kept at remedial level education.

In the 18 months previous to Caoimh achieving, at last, a way to communicate all of his thoughts, I taught him, almost daily, to incrementally develop control over his hand and arm movements, until he had mastered the ability to accurately point to letters on a large metal stencil. I didn’t have to teach Caoimh how to spell: he already had advanced literacy and vocabulary, which was all self-taught, since no one had deemed him sufficiently intellectually equipped to be taught to read.

In deciding to talk to Caoimh, when he was 10, as though he had the understanding of a non-disabled 10-year-old; and in committing to help him learn the movement control necessary to point at letters, I was going against what professionals had been telling me for years about Caoimh’s type of autism – that it was ‘low-functioning’, and that Caoimh would always have the comprehension of a young toddler. The process of teaching my son to letter point involved me looking beyond the judgments about his observable behaviour, and turning the theories I’d been steeped in, inside out.

It involved me acting on my hunches about the intelligence that I’d been catching glimmers of for years in Caoimh – beneath his frantic pacing and vocal droning, his bizarre repetitive movements, his glazed-over eyes, his tantrumming and bolting, his incapacity to consistently follow instructions, to write, brush his teeth, fasten zips and buttons. I got Caoimh on the letter board using the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) by developer Soma Mukhopadhyay.

*****

Tito Mukhopadhyay – Soma’s 30-year-old son – was one of the first severely autistic speech-disabled people to have his high intelligence and spelling-to-communicate ability definitively proven. The name of Tito’s book, How Can I Talk if My Lips Don’t Move? conveys the trap imposed on the severely autistic by the erroneous theory of intellectual disability/language processing disorder.

That old theory – imposed from the outside by non-autistic professionals, via their interpretations of severely autistic behaviours – is on the tipping point of being ousted by descriptions of severe autism from the severely autistic.

Pointing at letter boards and typing, these trailblazers proclaim that the professionals have got it catastrophically wrong. They insist that average to high intelligence in severe autism is the norm, not the exception; and that the professional misunderstanding of severe autism is having tragic and tortuous consequences. It is consigning millions of individuals to the lifelong, isolating, ‘locked-in’ state of having no means to show their real intelligence.

*****

As more and more severely autistic non-speaking people acquire communication, their sensory and neurological differences to ‘neurotypical’ people are becoming clear. For example, synaesthesia seems to be far more prevalent in the severely autistic than the neurotypical population. In this state, the senses merge, allowing highly sensitive autistic individuals to ‘smell’ words, ‘taste’ emotions, and even see what the rest of us can’t – such as the patterns created by the vibrations of music.

This tendency, combined with the habit of linguistic compression – shaped by how slow and painstaking letter pointing is for Caoimh – results in enigmatic writing, such as this: “Stone people intuit mist easier than right people. Visions are dancing amongst us. Mist permeates even minds that are really closed.”

By ‘stone people’, Caoimh means severely autistic people like himself. By ‘right people’, he means neurotypicals. He’s describing the sensory wonders of the place that Kedar calls Autismland: the world that the severely autistic person must struggle to get at least one foot out of, in order to be able to participate in our world, and so learn to navigate two worlds.

Kedar calls the withholding of communication “a crime against humanity”. Let’s hope we heed the clarion call of these previously trapped trailblazers; and do our utmost to liberate severely autistic people into real communication.
In their own words…

“I’m awestruck by Ido Kedar’s books. Hope presents its bright face on every page. Hope sometimes leaves stone [severely autistic] children, making us despairing. How amazing to find an autistic, chinwagging, non-speaking author!

“Stone children rot because meaning rots. Meaning, not sorrow, calms autistic people. Ido’s writing has the power to make real the stone mechanisms that govern us. Ido murmurs mostly about worn-out theories that hold us in prison; in dark nets, in always hoping for our escape. In too many ‘nots’ we fight to have acknowledgement of our intelligence. Hope has movement, to ease repeating answers to my roaring knowledge.

“My hope dapples wondrously. Ido cares about his fellow worried autistic prisoners. That is why I admire him so much.”

Caoimh Connolly, age 15.

“It is a weird illness and symptoms are easily read as poor receptive language but it is poor body control, I am sure.

“We think. We understand. We know. We have to sit and flap and make gibberish and then we are seen as retarded. Maybe there are some retarded autistic people but not as many as you think. We fail intelligence tests because we are suffering from an output disorder. We are in there, but so blocked, and only a few of us have been shown the way out.”

Ido Kedar, from Ido in Autismland

World Autism Awareness Day is on Tuesday

For more information on the campaign by families to help disabled people communicate, see Unitedforcommunicationchoice.org.

My Presentation at the UN World Autism Day on AAC and Communication Rights

Proud to have presented this video at the UN World Autism Day today.

Typers were well represented at the conference.
To view the whole conference,follow this link.

Enjoy

Not Talking is Not the Same as Not Thinking

Welcome to WSJ readers! I am honored you took the time to check out my blog.
Here is a link to my opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal. (Apologies- it is behind a paywall).

Not talking is not the same as not thinking.
The converse is also true.

The American Speech Language Hearing Association, or ASHA, insists that the true voice of nonspeaking autistic people is best left to pictogram systems and garbled speech.
Here is their brief video statement.

Here are films of people with autism who have broken free by learning the methods ASHA disdains. Please note, there are motor challenges in autism, as evident in the films.

Here is a link to an organization of professionals, autistic people, families and others who dispute this harsh judgment and believe the communication of these individuals is their “true voice.” Take a look at the different films and decide for yourselves which seems more logical- a mistaken autistic person not understanding his own disability, or a potentially mistaken professional.

To gain an insider’s POV into autism, please consider reading my books, In Two Worlds and Ido in Autismland.
Thank you for visiting my blog.
Ido

Proposed Position Papers by ASHA (American Speech Language and Hearing Association) Demean my Communication

The experts at ASHA, the American Speech Language and Hearing Association, have evidently become concerned that more and more autistic  people have broken through the communication barrier using methods other than theirs. Their response has been to put together a position paper condemning these other methods. It’s a bit ironic. In my own case, speech therapy didn’t accomplish much despite years  of expert instruction. Too often, the failed autistic speaker is blamed for the failure to speak because he is labeled as being too low functioning, too lazy, or too dumb to advance. And the speech therapist is off the hook for failing to made headway in communication with the non-speaking student since he’s written off as being low functioning, lazy, or dumb. It’s a great system, to be sure.

So certain methods that try to teach another way to communication are derided as a hoax. Hoaxes  certainly exist in autistic treatments. One must be vigilant because unknown neurological factors are at play and people can make treatment claims based on nothing more than the hopes of parents. But hopeful parents can  also spend 10 years  (or more) on well-established methods that give little result more than a few embedded phrases and some unclearly articulated words to show for it. When the end result of ten years of speech therapy is someone who speaks like I do, then from their point-of-view,  it seems a logical extension to determine that the method that gave me the ability to express myself fluently through letters is invalid. Of course, if  I had been left with my speech alone to communicate, I’d still be locked in and completely trapped. They reject my communication because they were not successful teaching me- or others like me- to communicate expressively.

So, no thanks. I’ll take a “hoax” that worked over a treatment that failed me any day.

The ASHA position is still in draft form. You can rebut or respond until June 24. Here is a link.  And here are some sample quotes that show their line of thinking. Note that the communication of typers, (and this is regardless of the degree of autonomy), is discredited.

“For both FC and RPM, there is no credible evidence that messages are authored by the person with a disability, and there is no credible evidence indicating authentic independent communication or any other beneficial outcome arising from FC or RPM (Lang et al., 2014; Tostanoski et al., 2014; Schlosser et al., 2014).”

“(ii) In RPM, there is no empirical evidence to show that facilitated messages are authored by the individual with a disability.”

“Both FC and RPM rely on presumptions of competency (Travers & Ayres, 2015). Presumption of competency is a risk to an individual’s safety when it is given more credence in treatment decisions than known facts about the individual or evidence to the contrary.”

“In the absence of evidence that messages delivered by RPM are authored by the person with a disability, RPM poses a potential risk of harm to the person using RPM and their family members. This is because, RPM being untested, there is a risk that the messages delivered via RPM are not authored by the individual but are instead authored by the “facilitator.” Other professional associations have warned members against using RPM (Irish Association of Speech & Language Therapists, 2017; Speech Pathology Australia, 2012; Speech-Language and Audiology Canada, 2018).”

Part 2 Typing to Communicate/ Tips for Getting Started/ Give it a Go!

Guest Post by Susan Finnes

I am passionate about RPM! I realised that many others could use this approach – but how could they learn ? There were very few teachers and only one Soma! I started to share videos of myself and others working with Chris on my YouTube channel and people from all over the world started to contact me asking for help to get started.

I knew I could do more – Chris was telling me that he wanted to help others to learn, so in 2013 I began to organise annual Soma workshops in the UK and I set up a facebook parent support group (intended for UK families, but it quickly became international). This is the link to the group Unlocking Voices – Using RPM https://www.facebook.com/groups/627199673958985/

My objective is to EMPOWER PARENTS so they can learn Soma RPM , even without having direct access to a teacher – and to learn it correctly. I want to make it easy for people to try it and then to share their learnings, to make RPM accessible to people all over the world by providing free learning resources which supplement Soma’s books. I would HATE to think that RPM was only for the ‘rich’. I maintain close contact with Soma and encourage her to share her learnings on the facebook group. One of Chris’s helpers – Alexandra Hopwood is now a highly skilled RPM Teacher (she completed an internship with Soma) and she helps me to make short tutorial videos which have proved very popular! The video links are available in the RPM Learning Resources file (one of many free resource files linked to the facebook group).

Here’s an example of one of our videos : ‘ 1- How to do written paper choices – basic principles’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slfnouqFqnEake

If you are wondering about RPM I’d like to urge you to join our group and make use of the free resources – what have you to lose? When I presented at the 2017 HALO RPM conference I was delighted to meet many parents who I recognised from the Facebook group and who have now gone on to set up their own local support groups and trained to become RPM teachers themselves.

I know that many parents join the Unlocking Voices- Using RPM group and see the examples of RPM working but fail to try it themselves for months or years. Or try it a few sporadic times and drop it for months or years before finally giving it a proper go. For many, RPM seems to be a ‘last resort’ – nothing to lose.

Why is this happening?

I think many people don’t believe or are afraid to believe for their own child – particularly when all the so-called ‘experts’ seem to spend so much time telling them what their child CANNOT and will not be able to do. Why would we not believe these experts? Every time your child fails to follow a simple instruction, or does not respond in a neurotypical way to an event, eg. no excitement at birthday/xmas, this serves to cement the belief that there is a huge lack of cognitive ability. On the other hand many parents I have spoken to will also say that their child is underestimated by teachers and give great examples which to me prove intelligence and learning capability eg . problem solving skills – finding escape routes, figuring out how to use dvd players, knowing when food cupboards are open , responding to their name. This proves that the child is capable of learning if taught in the right way.

Some parents I have spoken to do not believe in themselves – they do not believe they are capable of delivering effective RPM sessions. I can understand this – particularly if you have seen Soma or another experienced teacher. They make it seem so easy and then you have a go and make a total mess of it. Believe me, we have all done that ! I think it teaches our children a valuable lesson – we are showing that you will not be perfect when you are learning a new skill –so not to be afraid of making mistakes and not to give up but to keep practising . You are not going to do any damage to your child by trying a session and not delivering it perfectly – you will only get better with practise.

I think that some parents may try RPM a little and “fail” without realizing they haven’t tried in an effective manner or given their child nearly enough opportunities to practise and progress in his skill and tolerance. Often seeing or skyping with an RPM teacher can rectify this, but equally there is a need to understand that RPM progression will be different for each student – so it’s ok to try it without thinking there needs to be an initial BIG BREAKTHROUGH or it’s a failure for the child. For many students the process is a long one – lots of daily practise for a year or longer without open communication. This takes resilience from parents who are ‘desperate’ to talk to their child and seek proof that all the time invested will be worth the effort.

Those parents who haven’t tried yet may be daring (or maybe afraid) to hope that their child will type independently and share sophisticated thoughts IMMEDIATELY. Then if they try and don’t succeed in this there is a feeling of desperation and failure.

I understand all of these feelings –

I know any time I’m thinking about learning something new, a few things happen inside of me:

– I think about it and usually order a book /do some internet research
– Tell myself I don’t have time.
– Talk myself out it.
– Think about it some more.

– Tell myself I need more training /help
– Procrastinate some more ( I have MANY unread books!!!).

 

What I know now is that the MOST IMPORTANT THING is to simply TAKE ACTION AND TO HAVE A GO WITHOUT EXPECTING PERFECTION!! Then to KEEP GOING and LEARN from mistakes.

 

Please don’t judge your child’s potential by what he does with his body – Ido explains this really well in Ido in Autismland . I urge you to read this book and to share it with anyone who works with your child.

Chris is 18 now and we have to think about his future. This year we talked to him about the Mental Capacity Act -all Chris’s responses were made by pointing to a laminated letterboard. You will see on this clip that on this day he needed more tactile feedback – so the teacher is pushing the board towards him as he touches the letters. I like what Chris said ‘ the capability of the body and the mind are completely different’ https://youtu.be/syt6QnV_6vA

A;You may have heard your mum talk a bit about this , As you get older you’ll start to hear the term ‘mental capacity’ more and more…. what is your understanding of this?

C: IT IS ABOUT IF THE PERSON HAS THE CAPABILITY AND INTELLIGENCE TO MAKE DECISIONS PERTINENT TO THEIR LIVES.

A:Very good…what type of decision do you think, give me an example of a decision?

C:WHERE THE PERSON WANTED TO LIVE .

A: Do you think sometimes people assume people with autism don’t have mental capacity (eg I’ve come across people who were deemed not to have mental capacity but actually did..)

C; THE CAPABILITY OF THE BODY AND MIND ARE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

A; I like that point – eg look at S Hawking– his body vs his mind. Do you think that’s why a lot of people struggle/confuse the two?

C: THEY CAN’T GET PAST OUR BODIE.S

Thanks for taking the time to read this – I hope you are inspired to just HAVE A GO !

 

Sue Finnes is an autism advocate, YouTube educator, and the moderator of Unlocking Voices-Using RPM Facebook parent learning group. She is the mother of Christopher, aged 19, who describes himself in this way, “I am intelligent but happen to have a body that doesn’t obey my thoughts.” They live in the UK.

 

 

 

Typing to Communicate: Tips for Parents Interested in RPM— Just Give it a Go! (Part1)

 

I’m honored to share this informative and personal essay by a brave and generous mother, Susan Finnes. The determination of some mothers to get communication for their autistic children, even when local communication instructors are not available, amazes me. In some cases, people may have easy access to Soma, or other skilled people who teach typing to communicate, like my mom started to do. These teachers can transform lives.

But, what happens to people without access to these teachers, who live far from the opportunity, or who simply cannot afford to pay for lessons? Thankfully, in addition to books, there is now an online forum for parents and YouTube training videos that the author of this essay, Sue Finnes, put together. I think this labor of love that that Sue and her son, Chris, have undertaken is brave and incredible. They are willing to show their mistakes and their successes to hundreds of unknown people. I admire Chris for being willing to let people judge—and Sue, the same.

I am incredibly grateful as an autism advocate that they have created these educational and support networks to help people with autism and their families.

Because it is long, this essay will appear in two parts. In Part 1, Sue shares her journey with Chris into independent letter pointing. In Part 2, which I will post tomorrow, she shares practical tips for those interested in pursuing this with their own children or students.

Thank you again to Sue and Chris.

Ido

 

Questions I had when I first heard about RPM in 2009 :

What exactly is RPM? How can I learn RPM? Will it work for my child?

I scoured the internet looking for answers, looking for examples and could not find a lot of information. I had seen a short video of Soma (Soma Mukhopadhyay, who developed RPM) a couple of years previously and had formed the opinion that RPM was not for me. I saw her talking quickly, maybe even doing a poem with a child who did not look at all interested. Why on earth would I want to do this with my severely autistic non-verbal child – surely it was more important to focus on speech and how to dress himself?

Christopher was aged 10. His speech had not developed, we had made some progress with getting dressed and we worked mostly on social/interactive play skills. His communication was limited to the use of gestures to show what he wanted (eg. pointed to his bottom for toilet) and to taking us by the hand to lead us to what he wanted. I had done some basic word picture matching using flash cards. I was desperate for Chris to have a communication method – something more than a PECS system (where you have pictures of objects) and something others would be able to understand – so not sign language. I looked again at RPM – I saw a video this time of Soma teaching a child to point using written paper choices and realised that this was something we could possibly work on. I experimented – using a well-read Teletubbies book – asking what did the Teletubbies spill ?– tubby custard or water? I ‘m ashamed to say now that I was surprised when Chris chose the correct answers – you will see me smiling on this clip from Oct 2009 https://youtu.be/ajDvQEUBgqE . I thought I’d always believed and accepted him , but now we were moving onto something with huge potential ! Here is another short clip November 2009 – you will see that I quickly moved on from Teletubby books to the history of Bonfire night https://youtu.be/BIBn67V608Y . Please note that my techniques here were not very good !

From that moment on I exposed Chris to more age appropriate topics and began to talk to him more about everything –and started WRITING EVERYTHING DOWN assuming that he understood. We worked on getting him to point to the written choices. We took his interests /motivations and expanded them – bringing him interesting information eg singing twinkle twinkle lead to talking about the solar system. I did not think that Chris would cope with a long flight to the USA to see Soma , but found out about the Barrett family in the UK whose daughter Heathar had achieved success with Facilitated Communication, so I enlisted their help and early in 2010 we began to learn how to support Chris to type. I remember them telling me that I had to believe that Chris had been like a sponge taking everything in all these years – but with no means of showing us. It took MANY MONTHS of daily practise before we were able to get anything from him, which made sense, but when we did, it showed me how intelligent he was. I and Chris’s other helpers practised with him every single day and we were eventually giving light elbow support while he typed.

Fast forward to 2011 – I heard that Soma was in the UK and managed to get some sessions. I didn’t fully understand RPM – i thought i’d just take the good bits and adapt it. This was another WOW moment for me – the types of lessons Soma presented were way more advanced than we had been doing . Even though I saw Chris pointing independently with the stencils with Soma , I decided that I wanted to stick with FC for longer answers and would do written choices for other questions. Again we stepped up to the challenge – I started to work my way through a Biology student workbook, another helper did Physics, another Maths and Poetry. We made good progress -I realised that Chris was capable of learning , and was finding it interesting and stimulating. We were able to see Soma again in 2012 – this time I and Chris’s team were fully prepared ! We all studied Soma’s red book beforehand and we analysed in detail what she was doing in her sessions .

The penny dropped ! This method of teaching was not just about presenting information and checking student understanding –the stimulating information was the tool which enabled you to engage the child while working towards the skill of INDEPENDENT pointing/typing . It also enabled you to stimulate thinking and reasoning skills and taught the student how to express his thoughts and opinions. From that moment on we changed from supporting Chris to type , to teaching him the skill of independent pointing – beginning with the stencils.

Chris had at least 3 RPM sessions every day with different tutors. Initially there was lots of prompting – verbal ( eg. ‘up up, , lift your elbows’ ) , directive (eg ‘touch here’) and air prompts ((waving your fingers over the stencil in the direction of the letter). If Chris was struggling to get a letter we also had to motor model the movement with him – showing him hand over hand ‘this is how you touch the B ‘ (doing it twice hand over hand then immediately asking him to do it himself) ‘now you touch it’. I set up records on my PC – and after every session the tutor would record their notes from the session. We found that the process of writing up notes also helped us to analyse our own sessions – looking to see how much talking we were doing and how many responses we were asking for. Many sessions were filmed and I also set up skypes with Soma to get feedback. Up until 2016 Chris was having a minimum of two RPM sessions a day ,5 days a week . He is currently using the laminated letterboard and we are working on independence by beginning to get him to hold the board himself for a few letters/short words . Here is a short clip to illustrate.. https://youtu.be/vGL5Xb5o2lA

We have incorporated lots of purposeful movement into his programme – physical exercises, dancing, picking up and passing objects etc. I feel that we would have made more progress but have had setbacks with Chris’s health – he developed epilepsy and has frequent seizures which take time to recover from. As he is transitioning to adulthood Chris now also attends a skills centre two days a week and works on motor skills, living skills and independence skills. He is also learning to use the letterboard in different environments and with different people.

 

See you tomorrow for Part 2!

 

Communication Changes Lives- The Poet

I have never met Sami Kadah, nor did I know about him and his poetry exploring his life with autism, until his communication partner, Jeff, wrote to me.

Sami was locked inside with no communication for 23 years and he has been typing for two. It seems he has a lot to say. He says it in poetry form. In his poems, he opens his soul to pour out how autism controls his life. He writes so that each word matters. He is stingy with his words. They each say a lot.

Sami hurts from autism and he is worth reading. Communication changes lives, for sure.

Number 15, by Sami Kadah 

I am superstitious.
I am also religious.

I am smart.
I am also an idiot.

I want help.
I am also helpless.

I want to be independent.
I am also incredibly needy.

I am intentionally thoughtful.
I am also unpredictably impulsive.

I am physically affectionate.
I am also agressive and violent.

I am human.
I am also autistic.