Ryan and I began our Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) journey in January of 2014. I can honestly say that this has been the best thing that we have done for him and for our family since his diagnosis 8 years ago.
I first heard about RPM when Ryan was 4 years old. I saw Soma Mukhopadhyay speak at the National Autism Association Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida in November 2011. I thought that she was extremely interesting, but I was sure that my son would be speaking soon so that it was not necessary to do this with him.
A few months later, my husband Randy and I watched A Mother’s Courage, Talking Back to Autism. It was a great documentary, but I still did not feel like this method would be helpful to Ryan. He was too young. He will be speaking. This is for older autistics.
Fast forward to August 2013. I met a mother in a waiting room of a treatment that we were doing for Ryan. Her name was Lori. We spoke a little and she then told me that her son, Mike, was having headaches as a result of the treatment. I was shocked. I asked her how she knew that he was having headaches. She told me that her son used a letter board to communicate. I remembered the term letter board but I could not put my finger on where I had heard it. Well, she brought her son over and he began spelling out the most amazing words and thoughts. I was sobbing. I will admit, once her son came over I was shocked. I had noticed him in the room and he presented as very severe as he was biting on a baby board book. It was hard to believe that this boy could have the kinds of thoughts that he was spelling out and that he had the skills to actually spell these thoughts. It was then that I knew that we had to do this for Ryan.
Lori had warned me that it would be hard work. Ryan was not yet 7 at the time and I really had no clue what he knew and didn’t know. He was being taught and drilled on matching colors, shapes, and letters. Not identifying these things—matching them. I was told that ABA was not sure if he knew where his body parts were. He could not follow simple one and two step directions.
Ryan was 7 years old and we met Erika Anderson of ACE Teaching and Consulting. We were fortunate enough to get him into a camp in the Bay Area in California (where we were living) and it was for a total of 6 days, with a break between the first 3 days and the next 3 days. What I witnessed in the first 3 days wasn’t a miracle or magic. I saw a child who was treated appropriately, learning grade level work. He seemed interested. He was getting the answers correct. Erika was doing paper choices with Ryan in a teach/then ask format. He had a lesson on fables, phonics, gemstones, animals, and math. There were no repetitive drills, no baby stuff. I was sold (okay I was sold before those first 3 days) but I knew that in order to be successful, I had to be able to do it with Ryan at home. I asked Erika if I were to try and do a lesson with Ryan during the break and I videotaped it, would she be willing to watch it and give me feedback. She agreed and Ryan and I did our first of now hundreds of sessions together.
After the camp, the first two weeks were rough. Ryan would not sit at the table with me for more than 5 minutes. He was only picking the right side for answers. He did not seem to be listening. I had to carry him to the table most days. I scheduled a phone consult with Erika where I sent her a video of Ryan and me working together. She gave me some helpful tips and we got back at it. He then started picking only left side answers. I was frustrated. I was not going to give up, but this was not easy at all.
I haven’t even mentioned the lesson planning. I bought grade level curriculum books and studied and hand wrote all of the lessons. This was more time consuming than the actual lesson itself, but I knew that one of the key components was for me to be prepared as the teacher and to feel confident. Of course it was a learning curve for me too as I had never done this before. I spent a lot of time on the lessons so that I was comfortable with the material and the delivery. I did lessons on phonics (Ryan was in first grade and I had no clue if he knew how to spell or if he new blends or vowels), science, social studies, math, and I incorporated social stories into the lessons. Whenever we had an event or trip like a vacation, wedding, doctor’s appointment, etc. I created a lesson about it. I still spend a lot of time on lessons, but since we have been doing this for 22 months now, I am much more comfortable and it is not nearly as intimidating or time consuming as it was in the beginning.
Ryan and I sat from about 10-15 minutes every day. It was not a long time, but in those 15 minutes, he learned more than he did all day in school or ABA or speech therapy.
We moved from selecting paper answers to selecting the paper answers and then mirroring it on the set of 3 stencils, A-I, J-R, S-Z. After doing that for a while, I was able to give Ryan verbal choices and he could use the stencils to spell out the answer. We then moved to 2 stencils, A-O and P-Z. During this time, I periodically had phone consults with Erika and sent her videos for feedback. While in these stages, it was important for me to give Ryan verbal prompts and air prompts to get to the correct letters as this was a new skill for him. With known answers, we are teaching the children how to get to the write letter to spell it out.
Ryan saw Soma Mukhopadhyay for the first time in a short workshop in southern California in August 2014. He wrote his first ever original story with her. I will never, ever forget the feeling that I had that day and it lasted the whole weekend. I felt like I was dreaming. This was my son who I was unsure that he really understood everything I said writing a story—an amazing story. I still get the chills when I think about it. And the thing was, he was different. He kept hugging and kissing me the whole night. He could not stop smiling. He knew how big this was and he was very proud of himself. The change was obvious.
After that, Ryan saw Soma for a camp at HALO in Austin in October where he met another boy named Fox. Soma had Ryan and Fox have a very short conversation with each other. This was the first time that Ryan had communicated with anyone. Ryan saw Soma again in December for a short workshop in Long Beach, CA.
In January 2015, Lenae Crandall of HEED RPM began coming to the Bay Area on a monthly basis. Ryan was able to have several sessions a month to continue to improve his skills. He was sitting for longer periods of time. He looked forward to the lessons.
In March, we traveled to Wisconsin for a camp with Erika at ACE. This was the first time that Ryan had joint sessions with another RPM student. Erika moved Ryan to a rolled board and had him point to the letters with the board in half (A-O and P-Z).
Ryan continued to make progress. With Lenae, his open ended was going well. He even had more joint sessions with other boys his age where they had debates on the “best super hero” and the “best type of music”. The lessons at home were going well. He had a little bit of open ended communication with me at the end of some of the lessons. At first it was one word, then two, and then he could do short sentences, but only at the end of lessons.
Ryan’s open communication took off with me when Randy moved out to Texas to start his new job. I wanted the kids to finish out the school year, so Randy left in April and came back every few weeks for a weekend at a time. On Father’s Day, Ryan was noticeably sad. I asked him if he wanted to FaceTime with Randy and he spelled yes with the board. And that is when it happened, Ryan was able to communicate with Randy while on FaceTime. He spelled out DONT UNDERSTAND WHY YOU ARE MY DAD AND YOU ARE NOT HERE ON FATHERS DAY.
From then on, Ryan has been able to communicate with us outside of RPM sessions. He does do his best writing after lessons, especially when there is an open ended question or he is asked his opinion. We have had some ups and downs. When Ryan began school here in Texas, both he and I thought things would be different. He spelled for the IEP team in his transfer ARD meeting. He was amazing, yet he was still placed in a classroom that could not meet his academic needs. He was depressed. He was regressing with his spelling with me at home. He wouldn’t participate in home lessons. He kept spelling I HATE SCHOOL. THEY TREAT ME LIKE A BABY. I was doing lessons at home on intro to physics and poetry and he was sent home with work that was coloring a mouth and toothpaste for good dental hygiene.
Enough was enough. I made the decision to pull Ryan out of school and homeschool him. It has been a great experience so far. I never intended to do this, but this is certainly the best fit for both of us at this time. Ryan is learning more at home with me than he would have ever learned in the classroom. Some days are very difficult, but it has been very rewarding. Ryan still presents as a severely affected autistic child. I am not sure how much of that will change, but we will continue to work on it.
Ryan and I do lessons together daily and he also works several times a week with Adriana Barriga, certified Soma RPM provider. Ryan still does his best communication during a lesson.
I was on one of my autism moms’ Facebook groups last month and one of the moms was talking about her marriage and was asking the other moms what has been the most helpful in maintaining a good marriage. I was thinking about it as I really think that Randy and I make a great team, so I asked him. His reply: RPM.
I didn’t really think that he was serious, but he was. His explanation is that we now have hope. We know that Ryan is so smart and the future is not bleak anymore. That has helped our marriage. I had to agree with him.
Ryan loves riding his bike, working out with his trainer, reading (we read all of the time!), interviewing people about their jobs, and his skilled companion dog, Freckles. We would have never known any of this before RPM. We have even taken a family vacation to visit his friends in Canada that he met while doing RPM. Can you imagine taking a vacation that your autistic child plans?
Our lives are infinitely better as a result of RPM. Any child can do it! Please let me know if we can help you get started.
For information on how to get started with RPM, here is a post that outlines 11 Steps to Get Started on Your RPM Journey.