Category Archives: Sue Finnes

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

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’

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!!!).




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’

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?


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


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..)


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?


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.



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 . 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 . 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..

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!