RPM Community

I am getting ready to head out for another round of RPM workshops in Atlanta, Georgia and Portland, Oregon. To me, workshops are not just about helping kids and families communicate and learn through RPM, it is about building communities. The older I get (and I am getting old!), the more I realize the critical importance of community. There is only so much we can do as individuals but when we harness our talents, our compassion, our strengths, our understanding – we can do amazing things! The Atlanta RPM community is a model for what community can do. Last night, a bunch of the Atlanta RPMers got together to go to a baseball game. This was nothing elaborate – just a Facebook announcement saying who’s in? The result, a bunch of kids, just being kids, out at a ball game with their families and letter boards!  When I saw the pictures pop up on Facebook, I called my friend and RPM mom, Lou Blankenship, and asked her if she would be willing to write a guest blog about how she and the other Atlanta families are making community work so well. I am so grateful to her for sharing her experience with RPM and RPM community!

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Atlanta RPM hits the ball field!

Luckily for Reece (our 20 year old autistic son) he is the “baby” of our family. With two very active, involved and social older sisters, even if he could have spoken he had no say regarding being shuffled from outing to outing! Consequently, he became pretty adept at navigating the sometimes extreme challenges facing autistics that occur when having an unpredictable schedule, and actually began to like being busy and included.  

Reece

Reece

After his sisters graduated from high school and headed off to college and even more so after Reece left public school at age 19, our outings and social opportunities diminished. Looking for our “what’s next” in both the academic and social arena I stumbled upon a group email written by Susie about something called RPM.  Intrigued, I set up a meeting with her and we spoke at length as I grilled her on the amazing things her daughter, Graciela was doing with RPM. It was a meeting that literally changed our lives!

Susie introduced us to stencil boards, helped us in organizing “poking” practice and encouraged “presuming competence”….she also asked if we would be interested in participating in an RPM workshop the following November.  I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough.  Two months later during his first ever RPM workshop, Reece and “his angel” Elizabeth Vosseller of Growing Kids Therapy tilted our world  as he spelled out words such  as “Zeus”, “advocated” and “manifesto.” And *BAM* we were hooked!

Reece gives the greatest bear hugs EVER!

Reece gives the greatest bear hugs EVER!

I could go on and on (and on) about how RPM has been our answer to academic lessons, how it has given us a better understanding of autism, and especially how it has helped in opening  lines of communication, but as vitally important as all that is, I want to tell you the truly unexpected thing RPM has given us. It gave us peers, it gave Reece friends who communicate the way he does, it gave us a support group, it gave us camaraderie, it connected us to families who shared mutual experiences.

Proudly representing Atlanta RPM!

Proudly representing Atlanta RPM!

While each family is unique and special  in their own way, those of us who love a child with autism share a bond. The bond of sleepless nights that extend well past the infant stage and potty training that goes on much longer than “typical”.  The bond from researching endless options for treatments, therapies, diets, etc. The bond of knowing that even if things are going wonderfully, any little thing may make that great outing turn bad in a second. The bond of whole heartedly loving a child who  has never been able to verbally communicate that, yes he loves you too. And unfortunately, the bond that comes from understanding how it feels when you take your child out in public and they “act weird” or “different” and others stare or make negative comments.  But now, with RPM we have families that share a bond unlike those I mentioned …. it is a more positive bond, a happier, more empowered bond that says “my kid may have motor planning issues, and yes, he sometimes acts differently but he is proving to me and everyone he comes into contact with how extremely intelligent he is!”  

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In the few month since our first Atlanta RPM workshop, we have had the immense pleasure of attending a seminar with other RPMers at Agnes Scott College that was sponsored by the wonderful Hirsch Academy community; we have organized a book club where the kids use their letterboards to discuss literary works such as Life of Pi, Heaven is for Real and Grapes of Wrath; we stepped into the  world of poverty when the original four RPM kids took a field trip to the Compassion Experience; we are conquering new and exciting, very relevant topics in an unconventional educational experience taught by a special TA from Duke University; we have met for a hike, birthday celebrations and just last night we had a great time during an RPM group outing to the minor league Gwinnett Braves game.

Atlanta RPM

Atlanta RPM

For us, Atlanta RPM has not only been the key in establishing communication, understanding and learning it has truly become a community supporting each other in actions, ideas, lessons and friendship.  I have heard it said that “it takes a village” – but for us it takes an RPM community!

Thank you for your story Lou. At the end of the November 2014 workshop, Reece told me that he wanted to start a RPM Center. Reece, you have done better than that! You, Graciela, Charles and John – my “Core Four” (that’s my new nickname for y’all) along with the help of your beautiful mammas: Lou, Susie, Joan and Patricia have created a COMMUNITY!!! This weekend I will meet 8 new RPMers who are new to me, but not new to the boards thanks to the help of the Atlanta RPM coaches: Jess, Camiley, Kelsey A, Kelsey T, Roxy and Shelley! I am so excited for our “Community Meeting at the end of the weekend when my Core Four will participate in a panel discussion answering questions about RPM!  Here we grow again…It’s going to be an amazing weekend!

Do you need a RPM community? Call a friend – share your experience about RPM. Get your kids together and hang out. Start a book club. Send other RPMing parents an encouraging text. Form a local Facebook community. Share your experiences. Bring your kids and letter boards out to local events. The ripple effect is growing my friends, catch the wave!
~Elizabeth and Lou

 

Words of Love for Moms ~ Happy Mother’s Day!

Everyday I get to work with amazing women.  Women of endless strength, patience, courage, passion, belief and love.  To a few, they are called Mother, Mum, Mom, or Mommy. I am blessed to call them my friends!  When another friend, mother and RPMing Head of School of the Hirsch Academy, Shelley Carnes, sent me her fabulous lesson on Mother’s Day, I asked if I could use it with my kids.  She graciously agreed and the creative writing responses the kids gave had me weeping during sessions. The lesson focuses on the history of Mother’s Day, started by Anna Jarvis and signed on as National Holiday in 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson.  I cannot think of a better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than to share their words with you!

The lesson ends with this creative writing prompt: Anna Jarvis created Mother’s Day to celebrate her beloved mother and all mothers.  She said defined mothers as “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”, what are your thoughts on this statement?

MY MOTHER IS THE MOST AMAZING PERSON I KNOW.  SHE BELIEVES IN ME AND SOPHIA. YES, I KNOW I AM LUCKY TO HAVE HER AS MY MOM.  SHE WILL USUALLY UNDERSTAND WHY I AM SO VERY STIMMY AND TOLERATE MY QUIRKS.  WHO IN THIS WORLD WOULD LOVE ME THIS MUCH?  THE VERY MOST THING I WANT TO SAY IS PLEASE KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, MOM!  SAVE SOME PLAY TIME FOR YOURSELF.  YOU DO SO MUCH FOR US. LOVE, MATTHEW. ~Matthew

Matthew

Matthew

MY MOTHER IS MY BEST FRIEND.  NO ONE REALLY GETS ME LIKE SHE DOES.  MY MOM IS REALLY SO FUNNY.  THAT IS WHERE I GET MY SENSE OF HUMOR.  MY MOM HAS MADE MY LIFE SO VERY NICE.  I LOVE MY MOM SO MUCH! ~Davis

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I THINK THIS MAKES SENSE.  MY MOM IS THE  BEST PERSON I KNOW.  SHE NEVER GIVES UP ON ME.  I NEED HER SHE IS THERE.  ONLY SHE COULD LOVE ME THIS MUCH.  NO ONE IS MORE SPECIAL TO ME. ~Tom

Tom

Tom

MY ALWAYS HAPPY MOM PLAYS WITH ME. I REALLY LOVE HER SO MUCH. MY MOM IS THE QUEEN, SO SPECIAL TO ME.  ~TJ

JT

JT

TO BIRTH A CHILD IS THE MOST PAINFUL EXPERIENCE, AND YOUR MOTHER DID IT FOR YOU. IF THAT DIDN’T STOP HER FROM LOVING YOU MORE THAN ANYONE, I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL.  MY MOM HAD ME, LOVED ME, FOUND I HAD AUTISM, AND IF IT WERE POSSIBLE, SHE LOVED ME EVEN MORE.  ~Huan

Huan

Huan

MY MOM IS THE MOST DEVOTED MOM IN THE WORLD.  I LOVE HER SO MUCH.  I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH WORDS TO TELL HOW SUPER SHE IS TO ME.  MY MOM IS THE BEST I KNOW.    ~Calvin

Calvin

Calvin

ANNA MADE US THINK ABOUT OUR MOTHERS. LIFE WOULD BE A VERY LIMITED STORY WITHOUT MY MOTHER’S INSISTENCE THAT I WILL HAVE A GREAT, MEANINGFUL LIFE.  FIRST, I HAVE TO SAY I LOVE MY MOTHER.  SECOND, I AM SO GRATEFUL I HAVE HER AS MY CHAMPION. THIRD, SHE IS MY HERO. SHE HAS MADE MY LIFE WORTH LIVING. ~ Ryan

Ryan

Ryan

MOTHERS BASICALLY ARE GOD’S ANGELS.  THEY GO TO ANY LENGTH TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR KIDS.  MY MOM IS MY BEST FRIEND.  SHE IS THE MOST KIND AND GIVING PERSON I HAVE EVER MET.  MY MOM BELIEVES IN ME.  SHE HAS NEVER TREATED ME LIKE I AM LESS THAN HER IDEAL DAUGHTER.  SOMEONE ELSE WOULD HAVE RUN OUT A PATIENCE LONG AGO.  NO ONE ELSE IN THIS WORLD MEANS AS MUCH TO ME.  MY MOM IS MY SONG AND MY LIGHT.  I LOVE HER SO MUCH.  ~Emma

Emma

Emma

Happy Mother’s Day! Know that you are loved and appreciated for all that you do! ~Elizabeth

Emma Presumes Competence!

I did not get all of my Autism Acceptance month post up for April (that month sped by!). So, we will continue to share the words of our Growing Kids Therapy Center clients in May in celebration of GKTC’s 6th anniversary and Better Speech and Hearing Month! Today’s post comes from Emma.  Emma and I have been working together for 11 years with the last 2 years focused on RPM.  Emma has a constant smile and look of mischief on her face. She is quick to laugh and always cracks up when I mess something up (which is frequent!). Her laugh is infectious, so inevitably, we both end up in giggles!

Emma is now fluent in her RPM skills but her writing continues to evolve with every session. With some of my very fluent clients, I present information without asking specific questions only asking the student to analyze and synthesize the information presented. Here are Emma’s thoughts on presuming competence.

How can you resist this smile?

How can you resist this smile?

COMPETENCE IS SOMETHING THOSE OF US WITH AUTISM HAVE BUT NOT MANY BELIEVE.  I DON’T THINK MOST PEOPLE CORRECTLY ASSUME I AM SMART. SO FRUSTRATING. SO INSULTING.

DON’T REALLY THINK SPECIAL EDUCATON GETS ME OR MY FRIENDS. I THINK ANNE DONNELLAN IS RIGHT.  TOO MUCH EMPHASIS HAS BEEN PLACED ON TESTS THAT MANY OF US WITH AUTISM CAN’T SUCCESSFULLY TAKE.  TOO BAD THAT SCHOOLS ARE STUCK ON TESTING MORE THAN TEACHING.

I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH BIKLEN.  HE IS RIGHT THAT STUDENTS NEED TO BE ENGAGED CREATIVELY.  HE IS ALSO RIGHT TO ASSUME THAT STUDENTS WANT TO LEARN. TEACHERS SHOULD HAVE TO TAKE A PLEDGE TO DO NO HARM.  I THINK IGNORING THE NEEDS OF AUTISTIC STUDENTS IS HARMFUL.

ANNE SULLIVAN ASSUMED THAT HELEN COULD LEARN AND TAUGHT HER TO SIGN. THRESHER IS AN ADULT AUTISTIC WHO IS COMMUNICATING THROUGH TYPING. HIS COMMUNICATION MAKES HIM FEEL LIKE HE IS PART OF THE WORLD.  MINE DOES TOO!

Emma, I can’t think of a better testimony to communication!  It IS what makes us part of the world and why it is so important for kids to have access to education and a communication method that works for them!

~Elizabeth and Emma

Autism Acceptance – Charles on Autism Self Advocacy!

As we continue to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month, Charles from Atlanta has something to add to the conversation.  I refer to Charles as “The Cool” because he is one of the most laid back guys I know!  Don’t let Charles’ quiet demeanor fool you. He is always listening and reflecting and has formed very definite opinions which he is always willing to share!  Here are Charles’ thoughts on the Autism Self Advocacy Network from an article on Ari Ne’eman.

Charles, whom I have nicknamed, "The Cool", and his Mom show their skills on the boards! Two star pupils!

Charles, whom I have nicknamed, “The Cool”, and his Mom show their skills on the boards! Two star pupils!

Who are we talking about? ARI

Who appointed him to a council on autism? OBAMA

What was his experience of learning he was autistic?
HE WAS DIAGNOSED AT 12.  HIS MOTHER TOLD HIM.

How about your experience?
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WAS WHEN I KNEW I WAS DIFFERENT.

How did Ari experience the opinions of others about autism?
HE FOUND STINGING COMMENTS AT FIRST.  HE STARTED STAYING AWAY FROM NEGATIVE PEOPLE AND HANGING OUT WITH AUTISTICS.  HE LONGED FOR COMMUNITY.  I HAVE FELT THE SAME WAY.

What do you think about ASAN?
ASAN IS GREAT AS AN ORGANIZATION KIND OF LIKE ATLANTA RPM.  MY ATLANTA COMMUNITY HAS GROWN SO MUCH.  TEACHING OTHERS ABOUT AUTISM IS THE JOB OF AUTISTICS NOT NON AUTISTICS.

Ari discusses the need for community as well as assimilation in the world.  What are your thoughts on this?
FITTING IN THE NORMAL WORLD HARD TO DO.  I DO NOT LIKE CHALLENGING MY AUTISM FOR ANYONE ELSE’S COMFORT BUT I ENJOY DISPLAYING HOW SMART I AM.  I AGREE I SEE INCLUSION AS A REAL PRIORITY AND ALSO THINK AUTISTICS NEED TO BE ABLE TO COME TOGETHER TO RELATE TO EACH OTHER.  I ENJOY SPENDING TIME WITH OTHER AUTISTICS WHO RPM LIKE ME.

Charles is a leader and advocate! His voice (along with his mother’s) has attracted many new RPMers to the Atlanta community.  Keep up your fantastic advocacy Charles, the world is listening!

~Elizabeth and Charles

Autism Acceptance Month – Bella Presumes Competence!

It has been my absolute pleasure to visit Australia these last two weeks to hold workshops in Sydney and in Perth.  The Perth workshop just started today and the kids all really brought their best to the boards.  I am seeing 8 kids in the Perth workshop, 3 who are brand new to RPM.  I can’t wait to see where they end up by the close of the week!  In Sydney, I worked with 9 fantastic kids and their families, 5 were newbies.  Each of the Sydney kids made incredible progress over the week, all demonstrated that they are smart and eager to learn! It has been a pure joy to work with every one of these bright, imaginative, loving, and adorable kids! I will be leaving Australia with a full heart and many new friends (and a plan to return!!).

One of my Sydney kids, Bella, is a huge reason for my visit to Australia!  I have been following this 8 year old RPM powerhouse on the web for some time and have been a long time fan and inspired by her work with her dedicated parents!  Bella and her family have been a huge voice in the Australian RPM community. Their advocacy and support is large reason that so many Australian families have sought RPM for their kids.  It was such a treat to work with Bella and her absolutely delightful family!  Here are Bella’s thoughts on Presuming Competence!

Bella and Elizabeth.  Sydney, April 2015.

Bella and Elizabeth. Sydney, April 2015.

What do you think about the presumption of competence?
I THINK EQUALITY FOR ALL LEARNERS IS SO IMPORTANT.

Tell me what you think Anne Donnellan’s position on special education.
ANNE IS SO RIGHT!  TESTS ARE NOT A GOOD WAY TO SHOW HOW SMART I AND OTHERS ARE.  TESTS DO NOT LET ME SHOW THAT I CAN THINK AND THEY LIMIT MY EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES.

What are your thoughts on Douglas Bicklen and his position on speech and cognitive abilities?  DR. BIKLEN HAS A REALLY GOOD POINT.  SPEECH IS NOT A GOOD INDICATION OF INTELLIGENCE!  SOME REALLY STUPID PEOPLE NEVER STOP TALKING.  SOME GENIUSES NEVER SPEAK.

We just discussed Anne Sullivan’s work with Helen Keller.  How did she  presume competence?
I THINK THAT ANNE SULLIVAN WAS RIGHT TO PRESUME COMPETENCE.  SHE SAW HELEN WAS TRAPPED IN SILENCE LIKE ME.  THAT DID NOT STOP HER FROM BELIEVING IN HELEN!  SO MANY OF OURS ARE STILL TRAPPED.  PLEASE HELP THEM TOO.  TRUSTING YOU TO WORK WITH ALL KIDS WHO ARE STILL SILENT.

Bella, help me to teach other people. Think of it as “Bella’s Guide to Presuming Competence”!  How should others do it?
BELLAS GUIDE TO PRESUME COMPETENCE.  GO OUT AND EMBRACE OUR AUTISTIC PEOPLE.  SHOW THEM YOU REALLY CARE.  SHOW THEM YOU REALLY BELIEVE THEY ARE SMART.  THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP TO TAKE.

Bella, would this be OK for me to put on my GKTC blog for Autism Acceptance month?
I WOULD CONSIDER IT AN HONOR.

Wow Bella!  You have left a lasting imprint on my heart!  I will do all I can to accept your challenge to help others who are still trapped in silence. Thank you for all your hard work and leadership in Australia and now in the rest of the world!  I hope that everyone will take your advice and embrace our autistic people and show them we really believe in them!!!

~Elizabeth and Bella

Autism Acceptance Month – Sarah Presumes Competence!

Today’s blog comes to you courtesy of my friend, Sarah. Sarah is an incredibly bright and funny teen who keeps me on my toes every time we work together!  I never know what Sarah is going to bring to our lessons, but I can rely on the fact that it will include her keen insights and sharp wit!  This lesson on presuming competence is no exception!

What are we talking about today?
PRESUMING COMPETENCE

What does presuming competence mean?
ON EQUAL FOOTING … UNDERSTANDING ALL ARE EQUAL

What does the word competent mean?
BASICALLY IT MEANS SOMEONE IS ABLE

Tell me about Anne Donnellan and what she suggests.
ANNE DONNELLAN IS A SPECIAL ED RESEARCHER.  SPECIAL ED IS FAILING STUDENTS .  
EDUCATION ASSUMES THAT INTELLIGENCE CAN BE MEASURED.

Sarah, what is your experience with this?
I DON’T LIKE TAKING TESTS. HAVE TEST ANXIETY.  IT MAKES ME ANXIOUS SO DON’T DO WELL.  SO I CAN’T SHOW HOW I LEARN AND THINK.

Tell me about Douglas Biklen and his ideas.
DOUGLAS BIKLEN . HE SAYS TO PRESUME COMPETENCE.  I THINK HE IS RIGHT.  HE HAS MY WANTS AND EXPECTATIONS FOR SCHOOL.  HOW I WANT TEACHERS TO TREAT ME WITH RESPECT LIKE I AM SMART. 

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Biklen suggests that there should be a Hippocratic Oath for teachers. Do you know what the Hippocratic Oath is?

HIPPOCRATIC OATH IS FOR DOCTORS. IT SAYS DOCTORS SHOULD NOT HARM PATIENTS.

So how would the Hippocratic Oath apply to teachers?
MAYBE THEY SHOULD TAKE AN OATH NOT TO HARM STUDENTS.  SO THEY SHOULD THINK THE STUDENTS ARE SMART AND ACTUALLY TEACH THEM. 

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How did Anne Sullivan presume competence with Helen Keller?
HELEN WAS ASSUMED TO BE INCOMPETENT BUT ANNE USED CREATIVE WAYS TO TEACHER HER SIGN LANGUAGE.

What about Tracy Thresher?
THRESHER USES TYPING TO COMMUNICATE.  THIS ALLOWS HIM TO COMMUNICATE TO BE PART OF THE WORLD.

Creative writing:
Sarah, how have you or do you need to be creatively and innovatively taught for you to learn best?
I HAVE NOT BEEN CREATIVELY TAUGHT BEFORE RPM AND FC.  MY EDUCATION HAS LACKED COMPETENCE PRESUMPTION.  I LOVE MY SCHOOL BUT THEY NEED TO TEACH ME BETTER.  I NEED CHALLENGING LESSONS LIKE YOU GIVE ME.  YOU THINK THAT I AM SMART.

Thank you for your always savvy insight!  You deserve to be challenged and engaged every day.  I hope that your message and your challenge to raise the bar will be met by educators, parents, and specialists everywhere!

~Elizabeth and Sarah

Autism Acceptance Month – Reece on Autism Self Advocacy

Atlanta RPMer, Reece, has something to tell us about being a “southern autistic”!  In my last visit to Atlanta in March, Reece and I talked about Ari Ne’eman and the Autism Self Advocacy Network. As soon as Reece started communicating via RPM in November of 2014, he expressed a desire to help other nonspeaking autistics.  His voice has been heard as the Atlanta RPM community continues to grow by leaps and bounds!

Reece

Reece

Tell me about what you just learned about Ari.
ARI FOUNDED ASAN WHEN HE WAS 18. HE LIVES IN DC WITH MY MOST SPECIAL ELIZABETH.

Can you relate to Ari’s experience of being autistic?
SOME PEOPLE CONSIDER AUTISM A BURDEN.  JUST SO HAPPY NOBODY HAS EVER MADE ME FEEL THAT WAY.

Ari talks about this diagnosis and the reaction of others to autism.
I KNEW I WAS DIFFERENT. CHANGED NOTHING WHEN I GOT A LABEL.

What are your thoughts about ASAN?
ASAN IS DIFFERENT BECAUSE IT IS RUN BY AUTISTICS. DEFINITELY AGREE THAT AUTISTICS NOT NORMALS SHOULD ALLOCATE THE RESOURCES FOR AUTISM.

Ari talks about expectations of fitting into the typical world.  What is your experience?NORMALS GET OBSESSED WITH MAKING US LIKE THEM.  SOUTHERNERS ARE SO STUCK ON MANNERS.  I THINK IT IS HARDER TO BE A SOUTHERN AUTISTIC!

How about the balance of fitting into the typical world as well as the autistic community?BECAUSE I AM AUTISTIC I NEED TO BE AROUND OTHER AUTISTICS.  HOWEVER AT THE SAME TIME I NEED TO FIT IN THE NORMAL WORLD.

Anything else you want to add?
ELIZABETH YOU ALWAYS HAVE A SLY WAY OF GETTING ME RILED UP. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!

Reece, I love you too!  I was raised with Southern etiquette as well and yes, there are a lot of rules! Reece’s thoughts do make me wonder if experiences of autistic people vary from region to region.  I love that my kids always present me with new thoughts to ponder… Reece has been a tremendous leader in the Atlanta community and his new voice is being heard loud and clear far beyond Atlanta! Keep advocating for yourself and others Reece!

~Elizabeth and Reece