Back to School Countdown! 6…. Luke

Luke joins us today to count down another day until school starts. Luke (8 years old) will be attending a new school this year and is understandably nervous but optimistic about meeting his new teacher and classmates. Luke has become quite adept on the boards since beginning his RPM journey in April 2014 and is quite eager to learn. All of us are hopeful that Luke’s new school will be open to challenging his hungry brain!

Luke will be going back to school looking sharp! He used RPM to pick out some duds!

Luke will be going back to school looking sharp! He used RPM to pick out some duds!

Back to School
Today we are going to talk about education!

Spell Education.   EDUCATION

What do you think of when you hear the word education?  SCHOOL

Tell me one thing you expect to see at schools.  STUDENTS

Give me a word that tells how you feel about your new school.  NERVOUS

Let’s discuss some famous quotes about education. Listen to the quote and tell me what you think it means.  (click here for the complete lesson)

“You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward.”
~Conrad Hall (American cinematographer)
DONT STOP LEARNING EVEN WHEN YOU ARE OLD AND OUT OF SCHOOL

“Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” ~John Dewey
ONCE YOU ARE EDUCATED LIFE IS NOT THE SAME BECAUSE NOW YOU ARE REALLY PREPARED FOR ANYTHING.

Creative Writing: Write a letter to your teachers. Tell them about yourself. How do you learn best? What do you expect out of school this year?  What can they expect of you?

DEAR TEACHERS,
I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO MEETING YOU SOON.  MY HOPE IS THAT YOU WILL TRUST THAT I AM SMART EVEN THOUGH I MAY NOT SEEM LIKE IT FROM THE OUTSIDE.  I ONLY WANT A CHANCE TO SHOW THAT I CAN LEARN.
FROM,
LUKE

I know that given a chance, Luke is bound to impress everyone he meets in his new school! Go Luke, we are all so proud of you! ~Elizabeth

Back to School Countdown! 7….Ian

I have operated on an academic calendar for most of my life – as a student, a mother, professor and clinician. So, back to school time is my New Year’s. Time for new goals, fresh starts, school supplies and sharpened pencils! In Virginia, school starts the day after Labor Day (I know in some of you have been back in school already so we are catching up to you!). For many of my clients, they are returning to school now fluently able to express themselves through RPM. This is a game changer! So, I wrote a lesson on education as a forum for my kids to express their hopes and expectations about the coming school year. The responses  have been spectacular! In fact, they have been so fantastic that I could not choose just one to share. So, for the next week I am going to feature daily  blogs in a back to school countdown! Happy New Year!

Day 7, stars Ian, my kiddo in Seattle. I support Ian’s ongoing RPM work at home via “virtual RPM lessons”. Ian completed this lesson with his RPM provider in Seattle, Andi Galliher.

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This summer, Ian said he didn’t like the way he looked in pictures…

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…so, he and Andi have been doing “selfie therapy”! This smile says it might be working!

Back to School

Today we are going to talk about education!

Spell Education.   EDUCATION

What do you think of when you hear the word education?   I THINK OF LEARNING AND LOTS OF CHILDREN IN SCHOOL FINDING OUT WHAT THEY ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT

Tell me one thing you expect to see at schools.  I EXPECT TO SEE RESPECT FOR ALL LEARNERS

Give me a word that goes with High School.  FOR ME BULLYING.  BUT I WISH IT HAD MORE TO DO WITH PREPARING FOR COLLEGE OR WORK IN THE FUTURE.

Let’s discuss some famous quotes about education. Listen to the quote and tell me what you think it means.  (*Note: I do not usually have clients respond to all of these quotes in a session. I usually choose 4 or 5 but like to have the options to choose from depending on my learner. Ian is an overachiever – so he did them all!)

“You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward.”
~Conrad Hall (American cinematographer)
WE ARE ALWAYS LEARNING AND AREN’T PERFECT

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
~ Nelson Mandela
KIDS CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUR WORLD WITH A GOOD EDUCATION

“Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” ~John Dewey
EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT TO ME.  FIND A RIGHT WAY TO WORK WITH ME AT SCHOOL PLEASE.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~Aristotle   BE OPEN TO NEW IDEAS EVEN IF YOU ARENT SURE ABOUT THEM

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” ~ George Washington Carver EDUCATION OPENS UP MANY OPPORTUNITIES

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” ~Mark Twain
EVEN IF YOUR SCHOOL IS NOT WORKING THE BEST FOR YOU YOU CAN STILL ABSORB A LOT BY LISTENING AND OBSERVING

“The older I grow, the more I am convinced that there is no education one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with great men and women.” ~ Booker T. Washington
I NEED PEOPLE TO BELIEVE IN ME

Creative Writing: Write a letter to your teachers. Tell them about yourself. How do you learn best? What do you expect out of school this year?  What can they expect of you?

DEAR TEACHERS,
THANKS FOR BEING HERE.  I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT I AM AN AUDITORY LEARNER AND I HAVE DIFFICULTIES WITH MY MOTOR CONTROL AND ANXIETY.  MY AUTISM DOES NOT DEFINE ME.  I DON’T WANT THIS ALONG WITH MY LACK OF MEANINGFUL VERBAL COMMUNICATION TO HOLD ME BACK.  I EXPECT TO BE IN REGULAR CLASSES AND BE CHALLENGED WITH NEW CURRICULUM.  PLEASE BE PATIENT WITH ME.
SINCERELY,
IAN

Wow, right!?  Thank you Ian and Andi! Feel free to use this lesson with your child. I would love to hear what your student has to say, I welcome your responses in the comments section.  See you tomorrow!  ~Elizabeth

Lessons learned on the RPM journey – one mother’s perspective

I am delighted to introduce you to Susie Lotharius, my guest blogger. I had the pleasure of working with Susie and Graciela in a quick blitz of RPM sessions this summer. They returned to Atlanta determined to continue their work together on the letter boards. Susie and I keep in touch via emails, skype, and “virtual RPM lessons” (lessons that I have customized for Graciela. Susie posts Graciela’s responses to the lesson and I am able to leave comments and suggestions while monitoring their excellent progress!). It has been a pleasure to watch both of their skills develop – Susie’s as a coach and Graciela’s as a communicator! I admire Susie’s constant willingness to try, assess, and try again in order to create successful opportunities to constantly feed Graciela’s hunger for knowledge and support her desire to communicate! I was thrilled when she agreed to share her story. Enjoy! ~Elizabeth

As far as I’m concerned this has been the summer that has changed everything. It is with so much gratitude and with such a happy heart that I write this. Thanks to all that took place over the past three and half months I now not only envision a much brighter future for my low verbal, autistic daughter, but I also get the opportunity to “hear” her voice every day.

For years I have talked endlessly and passionately about my feeling that the moment my daughter understood the power of having a voice, she would not stop using it. Over the past few months I have learned that my thought missed the mark a bit. I now believe that my daughter always understood the power behind having a voice, but never had access to the tool she needed to be able to use it. All of this has changed since we started RPM.

Our RPM journey started in the Spring of 2013 when a friend shared her son’s astounding response to his first day with Soma. Several months later, that same friend wrote to me to share more of her son’s progress and to encourage me to take my daughter to see Soma. My mom, daughter and I ended up in Austin in May for a week-long “camp” with Soma, which marked the start of our new beginning.

After each session with Soma my mom, who is a problem solver at heart, kept telling me that all I needed to do was sit every day and do RPM for a few hours. As if it were that easy! I knew what my mom was trying to say, but I also knew the reality of my life with a husband who travels often and another vivacious daughter who also needs care and attention. I left Austin feeling enthused, but overwhelmed. I also was still unclear as to where RPM should be placed on my list of priorities for my daughter.

Graciela and her grandmother

Graciela and her grandmother

Fast forward three months and I now know where RPM needs to be in that list – at the top! We had the good fortune of passing through the Washington DC area this summer and sneaking in several RPM sessions with another RPM provider, Elizabeth Vosseller. Witnessing my daughter’s growth in such a short period of time helped me realize that I needed to buckle down and commit to RPM immediately.

Since we live in Atlanta where there are no (at least none that I know of!) RPM providers, I knew that it would be up to me to make this work. So, I simply made a commitment to myself and to her that we would try to fit in some RPM EVERY day and that we would learn together. We have stuck to this agreement, which has led to glorious results and a few learned lessons along the way.

Lesson #1: Release all need to be perfect and try to
I am the queen of perfectionism – especially when it comes to anything involving my daughter. I needed to let go of this when we started doing RPM at home. I needed to accept that I am not Soma or Elizabeth, but that I, too, have something to offer as her mom and as the person who knows her best. I needed to accept that our RPM journey would be a process and that there would be plenty of pitfalls along the way and that this is absolutely okay! Accepting this enabled me to release my anxiety around doing RPM “the wrong way”. My daughter is incredibly sensitive to my anxieties. My ability to let go really helped us both move forward with the process.

Lesson #2: Be open and honest with your child about the process.
As an educator and as a parent I have always had a policy of being as open and honest as possible. If I expect my kids to own up to their mistakes, then I need to be able to own up to mine as well. RPM can be a demanding process that requires a tremendous amount of patience – especially when your child is learning to acquire more motor control. I have found that the more I talk to my daughter about how I am feeling about the process, the more open she is to me.

Lesson #3: Be prepared for a wild ride on an emotional roller coaster.
It has been wonderful, yet so deeply affecting to hear my daughter’s insight into her experience with the world as a low verbal individual. Over the course of the summer she had her first ever real, substantial conversation with her little sister, initiated a conversation with her oldest, dearest friends, conveyed her anger over the “nasty, cold, angry people” who she felt were judging her and her out of control body at church and has stated how she feels about being looked at as being “retarded” instead of having people see the “real” her. This is just a snapshot of what she has managed to share. Some days I am full of joy and others I am brought to tears. It’s a lot to take in as a parent. Be prepared.

Lesson #4: Surround yourself with support.
We all know on some rational level that support is important, but as busy parents of children with special needs, I think that many of us often do not take this to heart. We move ourselves and our needs to the bottom of the list. Don’t make that mistake! Find a RPM provider through whom you can get local or virtual support and try to reach out to other families who are using RPM either through local connections, old friendships or social media sites. Also, be sure to involve those who are closest to you and your child in your process and journey. You will benefit from the love and support. This is not a journey that is best traveled alone.

Graciela, with her sister (left) and her long time friends and supporters!

Graciela, with her sister (left) and her long time friends and supporters!

Lesson #5: Feed, feed, feed the brain.
Always presume competence and find ways to stimulate the brain. My daughter is one of those kids who loves to read the same story or watch the same movie or sing the same song over and over. It has been challenging to move her past these tendencies over the years and, to be honest, we’re still stuck in some areas. However, the simple shift in my TRULY believing that my daughter IS competent has empowered me to make different choices and to be much more thoughtful about what I am presenting to her brain. Now our favorite time together is spent reading novels based on historical events and real people like Helen Keller and Harriet Tubman. She piles up all of her stuffed animals in our “big, brown bed”, climbs in to the small spot she’s left for herself and burrows under the covers while listening. I tend not to make this time into a lesson, but on the few occasions when I have asked her questions related to the story, it is very clear that she is processing every little bit.

Read aloud time!  Feed the brain!

Read aloud time! Feed the brain!

Just the other day in the midst of a lesson, my daughter spelled out on her stencil board, “Are you even treating me different?” I asked her why she felt this way and she responded, “Seems to you my intelligence is tons better.” Such a great reminder that attitude is half the battle.

Grab those pencils, that paper and those boards and get started! It is possible to have success at home with RPM. Breathe in and enjoy the ride. ~Susie

 

The Body and Brain Disconnect

I am part of a wonderful community of parents and practitioners of RPM. We chat, compare notes, commiserate, laugh, motivate, and learn from each other. Most of us have never met face to face (yet!). We have come together via the internet to blog, Facebook (is this now a verb?), skype, and email not only to learn but to share the words of individuals using RPM and encourage others to try this empowering method of education and communication. One of my favorite blogging duos is Lisa Reyes and her son, Philip, who write Faith, Hope and Love…With Autism. It has been a pleasure to get to know Lisa through her blog and our correspondence. Lisa is a great example of a parent who has worked patiently and persistently to support her son’s journey in RPM while guiding other parents! I could fill pages with the names, stories and leadership of other remarkable parents (and I will!). That’s the beauty of this community – parents and providers are just as dedicated to the success of others as they are to the success of their own children or clients.

Several months ago, I read Philip and Lisa’s blog entry, “The Difficulty of Self-Control“. Philip described his struggles with control of his body and the disconnect between his body and brain so eloquently. Through his words, I gleaned a better understanding of my kids who have similar struggles. So, I wrote a lesson featuring Philip’s blog! This has been one of my favorite lessons and as you will see, I have used it many times with clients of varying ages. (These responses are from clients ages 8-23. I do find it is best used with individuals who are consistently responding at the sentence level, but I have used it with kids who are at the multi word level too.) *To access this entire lesson (and please try it out with your own child!) see the comments section of this post. Here are the responses from my panel of experts!

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“MY BODY HAS A MIND OF ITS OWN WHICH IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN MY OWN. “

Can you relate to Philip’s statement that his body does not obey his brain?

I GET OVERWHELMED WITH TRYING TO CONTROL MY BODY.  I HAVE TO WORK SO HARD TO GET THROUGH MY DAY.  I AM JUST TRYING TO LIMIT MY MOVEMENTS SO I CAN FUNCTION AT ALL.  ~Luke (8)

I CAN SO RELATE TO PHILIP.  I CANNOT CONTROL MY MOVEMENTS BECAUSE MY BODY FUNCTIONS SEPARATELY FROM MY BRAIN.  TOTALLY SEPARATE.  MY BODY TAKES OVER AND I AM LEFT OUT OF THE DECISIONS.  IT IS NOT PRETTY TO BE LIKE THIS.  I DO NOT LIKE THE THINGS THAT MY BODY MAKES ME DO. Can you give me an example?  GOING CRAZY WITH NOISES AND MOVEMENTS.   ~Paul (23)

MY BODY DOES NOT OBEY MY BRAIN EITHER.  I DON’T KNOW WHY MY BODY WON’T LISTEN TO MY BRAIN.  YOU CAN NEVER KNOW HOW FRUSTRATING IT IS TO LACK CONTROL OF YOUR BODY.  ~Huan (17)

YES.  MY BODY AND BRAIN ARE DISCONNECTED.  JUST LIKE PICKING MY FINGERS. THESE URGES COME OVER ME AND I HAVE TO DO IT.  ~Ian (16)

I DO NOT HAVE CONTROL OF MY BODY.  IT DOES NOT LISTEN TO ME.  MY BODY DOES WHAT IT WANTS.  ONLY MY BODY KNOWS WHAT IT IS GOING TO DO.  Can you give me and example?  SOMETIMES IT IS NAUGHTY WHEN I TELL IT NOT TO BE. OTHER TIMES I AM SURPRISED BY WHAT IT DOES.  ~Emma (17)

SO VERY MUCH.  I CANNOT CONTROL MY BODY.  MY BRAIN AND BODY ARE DISCONNECTED.  SO I USE MY BRAIN TO THINK.  VERY OFTEN MY BODY BETRAYS ME.  IT WONT LISTEN TO MY BRAIN.  MY BODY HAS A MIND OF ITS OWN WHICH IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN MY OWN.  ~Ben (18)

Philip talks about his impulses.  What is your experience with impulses? 

I CANNOT STOP MYSELF WHEN I START TO DO SOMETHING.  I FEEL BAD AFTER BUT I CAN’T HELP IT. ~Luke

I HAVE IMPULSES ALL THE TIME.  MY BODY IS ALWAYS GETTING ME IN TROUBLE.  IT IS UNCONTROLLABLE AND I HAVE SPENT MY ENTIRE LIFE FIGHTING FOR CONTROL. IT HAS BEEN A CONSTANT BATTLE.  ~Paul

MY BODY TAKES OVER MY BRAIN AND I AM LEFT OUT IN THE COLD. WHEN THIS HAPPENS  I AM TOTALLY SURPRISED.  IT IS LIKE A STRANGER HAS TAKEN OVER MY BODY.  ~Huan

I AM ALWAYS MEETING CHALLENGES FROM IMPULSES.  MY BODY IS OUT OF CONTROL. OFTEN MY BODY REVOLTS AND TAKES OVER AND KICKS MY BRAIN OUT. FIRST I NOTICE SOMETHING.  MY BRAIN REGISTERS SOMETHING AND I KNOW WHAT TO DO BUT MY BODY DOES NOT LISTEN TO MY BRAIN.  I CAN NOT EVEN TELL YOU HOW FRUSTRATING IT IS.  MY BODY NEEDS TO GO IN TIME OUT.  SOMETIMES I GET SO ANGRY WITH MY BODY.  OTHER TIMES I THINK I AM REALLY MAKING PROGRESS. ~Ian

IMPULSES HAPPEN ALL THE TIME.  I SEE SOMETHING AND I CANNOT HELP HOW MY BODY RESPONDS TO IT.  Can you give me an example?  WHEN I SEE THE COMPUTER I GET OBSESSED WITH THE NEED TO GO ON IT.  ~Emma

USUALLY IMPULSES FOR ME HAVE TO WITH MY NEED TO STRAIGHTEN UP ALL THINGS OUT OF PLACE.  I TRY NOT TO BUT MY BODY TAKES OVER.  USUALLY I LOSE THAT BATTLE SO I HAVE QUIT THAT WRESTLING MATCH.  ~Ben

Philip talks about being tired.  What makes you tired?  

I AM TIRED OF FIGHTING MY BODY ALL OF THE TIME.  IT IS A NEVER ENDING JOB FOR ME. I AM SO WIPED OUT PUTTING UP WITH MYSELF AND MY CRAZY BODY.  I WISH I COULD STOP FIGHTING ~Luke

I AM TIRED OF CONSTANT STRUGGLE WITH MY BODY.  I DON’T WANT TO CONTINUALLY STRUGGLE WITH MY BODY.  I DON’T WANT TO CONTINUALLY HAVE TO WORK HARD JUST TO GET THROUGH THE DAY.  BUT I HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE. I ACCEPTED THIS LONG AGO.  ~Paul

JUST GETTING THROUGH MY DAY IS EXHAUSTING.  TRYING TO CONTROL MY ACTIONS EACH TIME MY BODY TAKES OVER WIPES ME OUT.  THIS HAPPENS ALL DAY LONG.  I NEED A VACATION FROM MY BODY.  YOU LAUGH, BUT IT IS TRUE. ~Huan

TRYING TO EDIT MY BODY’S ACTIONS NEVER STOPS.  IT SUCKS THE LIFE OUT.  THE BODY IS THE ENEMY.  I WISH FOR REST PARTICULARLY AT NIGHT WHEN I WANT TO SLEEP.  THE CONTRARY BODY WONT LET ME.  ~Ian

I AM TIRED OF MY BODY BEING NAUGHTY.  IT NEEDS TO LEARN TO LISTEN TO MY BRAIN AND BEHAVE LIKE A TEENAGER.  I AM SO TIRED OF MY BODY GETTING ME IN TROUBLE.  ~Emma

I AM TIRED OF FIGHTING THIS DISOBEDIENT BODY.  EACH DAY IS AN EPIC BATTLE BETWEEN MY BRAIN AND BODY.  I AM EXHAUSTED BUT REFUSE TO SURRENDER THE WAR. ~Ben

Philip mentions trying to control stims, what can you tell me about stims?  (Note: my lessons have a way of evolving over time.  I have added these last two questions over the months that I have used this lesson.)

STIMS HELP ME TO FOCUS. DO NOT THINK THAT WHEN I AM STIMMING THAT I HAVE STOPPED LISTENING. I AM STILL WITH YOU BUT MY BODY HAS CHECKED OUT. ~Luke

STIMS ARE A REST FROM MYSELF.  THEY LIGHTEN UP MY BURDENS BY LETTING ME ESCAPE.  STIMS ARE LIKE NOTHING I CAN DESCRIBE.  I BET IT IS LIKE BEING ON DRUGS.  STOPPING MY STIMS IS VERY DIFFICULT FOR ME.  I KNOW I CAN’T STIM ALL THE TIME BECAUSE I WOULD NOT GET ANYTHING HARDLY THOUGHTS OUT.  THE BAD THING ABOUT STIMS IS THAT THEY KEEP ME FROM BEING ABLE TO THINK.  ~Ian

Is there anything that we can do to help? What gives you hope?  

I NEED TO BE BROUGHT BACK FROM THE HOSTILE TAKE OVER OF MY BODY.  IT HELPS TO TALK TO ME SO MY BRAIN IS INVOLVED. THAT WAY MY BODY HAS TO TAKE A BREAK. ~Luke

I AM STILL HOPEFUL.  EACH DAY I GET TO HAVE A CHANCE TO LIVE MY LIFE TO THE FULLEST.  I AM GRATEFUL. ~Paul

I NEED HELP PATROLLING FOR UNSAFE TERRITORY, PLACES THAT MIGHT TRIGGER A MELT DOWN.  STOP YOURSELF AND THINK ABOUT WHAT MIGHT SET YOU OFF. THINK ABOUT THAT HAPPENING TO ME DAILY, SEVERAL TIMES A DAY.  NOW YOU CAN UNDERSTAND WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE ME. ~Ian

I am so grateful to be a part of this incredible RPM community. My thanks to Lisa and Philip for their leadership and kicking off this discussion on the brain and body! Another huge thank you to my clients and their families who teach us something new every day! ~Elizabeth

A Letter to My Body

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A few weeks ago, my client, Ethan, came in for his session very upset and agitated.  We began our lesson and tried working through his irritation to no avail. Ethan was becoming more and more distraught. So, we took a short detour from our lesson to discuss the issue. I am a big stickler for doing lessons in RPM sessions – it is part of how RPM works – engaging the brain and then body in cognitive lessons. However, sometimes the situation calls for a change in plan and this was one of those days!

Elizabeth:  Let’s break for a moment Ethan. I can see you are really upset. What’s going on?

Ethan:  I AM UPSET BECAUSE I AM NOT KIDDING AROUND AND I CAN NOT HELP IT WHEN MY BODY ACTS OUT.

Elizabeth: Let’s try writing a letter to your body.

DEAR BODY,

I DO NOT LIKE YOUR BEHAVIOR TODAY!  YOU ARE MAKING ME DO THINGS I DO NOT WANT TO DO AT ALL! DO NOT MAKE ME LOOK BAD ALL THE TIME.  I DO NOT WANT PEOPLE THINKING I BEHAVE LIKE THIS ON PURPOSE.  JUST LIKE A PUPPET MY BODY MAKES ME DO STUPID THINGS ALL THE TIME.  I WOULD NOT MAKE SUCH STUPID CHOICES IF I WERE IN CHARGE OF MY BODY.  NO ONE CAN UNDERSTAND HOW PAINFUL THIS IS TO ME.  I HATE NOT BEING IN CONTROL OF MYSELF.  IT SUCKS SO MUCH. ONE DAY I AM LIKE A WELL BEHAVED KID AND THEN I AM LIKE SOME SORT OF CRAZY PERSON.  I GUESS THIS IS WHY PEOPLE DOUBT THAT I AM SMART.  I REALLY CAN’T BLAME THEM. I WOULD PROBABLY THINK THE SAME THING IF I SAW SOMEONE ACTING LIKE I DO SOMETIMES.  IT IS A BUMMER TO BE STUCK IN THIS BODY THAT MAKES ME LOOK STUPID WHEN I AM ACTUALLY REALLY SMART.  THE END.

Elizabeth: Can I ask you an additional question?

Ethan:  YES

Elizabeth:  How do you want people to treat you when your body is going crazy?

Ethan: JUST IGNORE MY BODY AND TALK TO ME LIKE YOU WOULD IF MY BODY WAS NOT FREAKING OUT.  CALLING ATTENTION TO IT ONLY MAKES IT LAST LONGER.  KNOW TIME WILL MAKE IT BETTER.  I AM ALWAYS TRYING TO CONTROL MYSELF.  BE PATIENT WITH ME.

Elizabeth: Can I share this on my blog? I think other kids have this same issue and it may help them.

Ethan:  SO GREAT IF MY WORDS CAN HELP OTHERS.

I am so grateful to Ethan and his family for letting me share his letter to his body and his other thoughts with you. Motor control is HUGE issue for many kids with autism (I will be sharing more thoughts on motor control from my kids in upcoming posts).  I believe we need to be very careful about what we label as “behavior” (this word is rapidly becoming my least favorite) and what is truly a lack of motor control or the manifestation of another underlying issue.

Ethan’s irritation continued over subsequent sessions. His mom and caregiver reported that he has been similarly bothered at home. The cause of Ethan’s increased discomfort and motor activity and lack of body control started to come out during a creative writing about the scientific method. (Great information is often revealed “sideways” in cognitive lessons). Turns out that Ethan is very anxious about starting middle school in the next couple of weeks and “that is why my body is acting out.” Huh….imagine that! Not an intentional “behavior” but a very understandable anxiety about embarking on a new, exciting but completely unknown educational experience! How very like any other kid getting ready to head off to middle school! ~Elizabeth

Observations…

When I was in Seattle a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of working with an incredibly bright and insightful, young man named Herman. Herman had never used RPM before and he picked it up fast! Over the course of the workshop, we learned a lot about Herman. One of the many things that impressed me about Herman was his observations about nature and humanity! Here are his responses to a lesson on Emily Dickinson’s, A Bird Came Down the Walk.

A bird came down the walk

A Bird came down the Walk
by Emily Dickinson

A Bird came down the Walk— He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves And ate the fellow, raw,
And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall To let a Beetle pass—
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought— He stirred his Velvet Head
Like one in danger, Cautious, I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers And rowed him softer home -
Than Oars divide the Ocean, Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon Leap, splashless as they swim.

Spell Emily Dickinson: EMILY DICKONSON (I pointed out that this was a great phonetic spelling of Dickinson but that her name is spelled with an i following the k. Then I moved on. I find that simple, informative spelling feedback like this is well received by the kids!)

What do you think this poem is about? I THINK THIS POEM IS BIRD MAKES NEST

What does the bird drink? DEW

What is dew? CONDENSATION IN THE MORNING

How are the birds eyes described? LIKE BEADS

How does this poem make you feel? CAUTIOUS

What is the bird cautious about? NOT SURE OF PEOPLE

What point of view does Dickinson give the reader? OBSERVER

What message does this poem tell us about nature? HUMANS CANNOT CONTROL NATURE

If you were with Emily Dickinson when she was observing this bird what would you want to tell her. I WOULD SAY NOT TO BE SAD EVEN GOD DOES NOT CONTROL NATURE

Tell me about something you have observed. I HAVE OBSERVED THAT PEOPLE ARE LIKELY TO EQUATE INTELLIGENCE WITH TALKING INSTEAD OF THINKING. THAT IS A MISTAKE IN THEIR LOGIC.  I WILL PROVE THEM WRONG.  DON’T DOUBT ME AGAIN.

Poems are great to use as RPM lessons! You can find poems to address a particular topic you want to discuss or you can just focus on the poem and the art of poetry itself. I am a fan of the latter. I generally read the poem out loud once and then start to ask questions about the poem. (Read it only once?! Yes! Presume competence and bet that your student can listen to, understand and retain a poem of reasonable length when you read it once – even if you have been told a million times that she can’t! If your student isn’t able to respond to the questions – then go back and read pertinent lines – but until then, believe that your learner can do more than you expect!) Poems are perfect for RPM lessons because you can take almost any poem and meet your learner at his or her level!

If you are the choice level, start with simple teach-ask choices (e.g., “What animal are we talking about? A bird or a mouse?). Is your learner great at making choices and you want to transition to spelling on the boards? After your student makes the correct choice, ask him to point to the first letter of that word on the board (adding more spelled letters as you and your student become comfortable!) If you are just beginning to spell on the boards (the 3 boards or 26 letter board) stick with asking questions that only have one answer: spelling (“Spell bird); offer a choice and ask your student to spell the correct answer or; present a fill-in-the-blank (e.g., “The bird came down the _______.”  When you know the correct answer it is easier to know what your learner is trying to point to on the boards!

When your learner is a little more proficient on the boards, build the complexity of your questions as you proceed in the lesson. This gives even a skilled RPMer a little time to warm up his brain and motor skills! Notice that I did NOT do that here! (DOH! Yes, I get excited and rush ahead occasionally too!) Also notice that this was not Herman’s best response. This was not his fault, it was mine for asking an open ended question too soon! Ok, no harm done! We picked up right back up with a more concrete question, “What did the bird drink?”. Confidence now restored, we continued happily ahead! (Get my point here??!!). Finally, I build to one final open ended question for creative writing. When it comes to creative writing – I ask the question, zip my mouth and let the student respond. (If you are a Chatty-Chatterton like I am, resist the urge to jump in with a barrage of questions!) You will be amazed at what comes out if you just let it!

Need a little more Herman? Of course you do! In a subsequent lesson about books, (the book lesson will be in a blog coming your way soon) Herman indicated that he would like to hear his parents read Mark Twain. This was a surprise to his parents but they were eager to meet Herman’s request. When they got home and pulled the book off the shelf this is what they found….

Mark Twain had been decorated!

Herman had “decorated” the outside of this Mark Twain anthology some time ago. His mom sent me this picture and commented,”We’ve seen that before but never realized he is interested in the inside of it!”  As she attached this picture she also noticed that Herman had decorated book in the background that his Dad has been reading (look just beyond the letter board) – Math in Minutes . WOW! It makes me wonder what other clues these incredible kids have been leaving us! ~Elizabeth

Making it Work: Tailoring your approach for your learner

I am afraid that some readers may take a look at my blog posts and think that all my clients skip eagerly into a RPM session, fingers poised to spell pithy, insightful narratives on the letter board in the midst of rainbows and sunshine! Isn’t that the way it looks when you do RPM?!! Nope, it doesn’t work that way for me either! Let me help tune that image into a more accurate picture with the help of my friend Jarrett.

Jarrett is a super smart, adorable (obviously!), twelve year old. He has been a bit beaten up by what I call, “ground hog day education” – being taught the same things over and over and over. He is a perfectionist and a little weary from a demand to show what he knows in order to be taught anything new. Showing what you know can be tough to do when you have a body that does not cooperate! As you know, my mantra and war cry is PRESUME COMPETENCE….Jarrett and many others kids I work with have been the on receiving end of the opposite tenant – assume incompetence until proven otherwise. Jarrett’s typical response to frustration is to go on strike – full on refusal to participate. So, my very first step with Jarrett was to build a relationship of trust and respect. I do this by presenting Jarrett with age appropriate, interesting, and challenging cognitive lessons.

Jarrett likes options! I pull out every board that I have and let him choose.

I present NEW information in every lesson!  We do not “recycle” information in RPM. I may talk about the same topic in multiple sessions but the content is always new and fresh! For instance, here Jarrett and I are doing part 1 of a 2 part lesson on robotics. There is way too much great information on robotics for me to cover in just one lesson!

I give Jarrett a choice of boards. He is able spell on all the options (the 3 stencil set, the large 26 letter stencil board, the smaller 26 letter stencil board or the laminated board) but sometimes he prefers one board over another. Choosing a board for each response is not my standard operating procedure for my RPM clients but it motivates Jarrett and involves him in the lesson so it has become JOP – Jarrett Operating Procedure!

Jarrett is also a tactile learner - so he enjoys writing the words we have spelled on the letter board.

Jarrett is also a kinesthetic learner – so he enjoys writing the words we have spelled on the letter board. I add my notes along with Jarrett’s!

Jarrett is a great auditory learner. He is absorbing everything he hears. He is also a kinesthetic learner. When I would write down the responses Jarrett pointed to on the letter board, he would also reach for the pencil. I quickly learned that he was letting me know that he wanted to write as well. No problem! At first, Jarrett could not form any letters so we worked hand over hand to form the letters. This significantly improved his pencil grip. As we write the letters, I state the letter strokes required to form the letters (e.g., “A goes down, down and cross”). Guess what has happened? Jarrett is no longer tactilely defensive with the pencil, his pencil grip has improved and he is forming letters independently AND he is not on strike! Now Jarrett is actively engaged in the lesson! It is easy to get caught up in the communicative aspect of RPM and forget that RPM is a “method to integrate all parts of the brain to empower the learner” (Soma Mukhopadhyay). RPM provides a means of expressing what the learner understands via open learning channels – visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic. For Jarrett, writing the words he spelled with me engages ALL of his learning channels. For other kids, this same procedure might be torture. The trick is to stay true to the methodology of RPM but actively engage your learner in the ways that he or she learns best! (Not sure what kind of learner your child is? This book is the best guide to figuring that out!).

Of course we have not reached perfection yet (in fact, I have yet to EVER reach perfection in anything!!!). Sometimes parts of our sessions still look like this!

Strike!

Strike!

That’s ok! We are in no rush. Jarrett is learning in every session, participating and expressing himself through RPM. Even when Jarrett is on strike, he is still listening and learning. Every lesson builds his confidence and adds to his success. In the meantime, I have plenty of patience and plenty of this…..

As long as I have my coffee, it's all good!

As long as I have coffee, it’s all good!

I think of teaching and therapy as implementation of the scientific method. Form a hypothesis about what may work for your learner. Try it out. Gather your data (is it working/not working; too easy/too hard) and adjust! Be patient with yourself and your learner and enjoy the process! ~Elizabeth