Liam on Desegregation – Lessons learned from Ruby Bridges

Our last blog post featured Angie Paquin as our guest blogger, describing her work with her son, Liam, on the letter boards.  In today’s post, we present some of Liam’s work with his mom!  I have often looked at this picture of Ruby Bridges and thought of the courage it took for her and her family to fight for equality and inclusion and how it is analogous to the recurring plea I hear from my autistic RPM students to be included in general education. Clearly, Angie and Liam were thinking along the same lines so Angie created a a lesson Ruby Bridges and her story for Liam.

US Marshals with young Ruby Bridges on school steps.

US Marshals with young Ruby Bridges on school steps.

Here is Liam’s essay on Ruby Bridges and school desegregation in the South.

INJUSTICE WAS ROBBING AFRICAN AMERICANS OF EQUAL EDUCATION.  AFRICAN AMERICANS WERE SEGREGATED IN SCHOOL.  MIGHTY EFFORT HELPED TO BRING ABOUT CHANGE.  ONE PRINCIPAL TURNING POINT WAS FRIGHTENING, HARD TO BELIEVE, BUT TRUE.  RUBY BRIDGES WAS A LITTLE GIRL WHO STOOD UP FOR DESEGREGATION IN SCHOOLS.  SHE ATTENDED WILLIAM FRANTZ ELEMENTARY, A FORMERLY WHITE SCHOOL, AS THE ONLY AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENT.  ALL OF THE WHITE STUDENTS WERE REMOVED FROM THE SCHOOL BY THEIR PARENTS IN PROTEST.  ONLY ONE TEACHER WAS WILLING TO TEACH HER AND RUBY LEARNED FROM THIS TEACHER ALL THROUGH HER INTERESTING FIRST YEAR IN THE SCHOOL.  

RUBY UNDERSTOOD INJUSTICE.  MASTERING SUCH A DIFFICULT REALITY MUST NOT HAVE BEEN EASY.  ONLY SOMEONE WHO HAS EXPERIENCED DIFFERENCE HAS AN UNDERSTANDING OF REALLY HARD LIFE.  HAVING TO PROVE THAT YOU DESERVE EQUAL EDUCATION ILLICITS FEELINGS OF LINGERING SORROW NO ONE CAN TRULY UNDERSTAND.  MY INTEREST IN HAVING EQUAL EDUCATION IS SIMILAR TO RUBY.  I HAVE TO SHOW MY COMPETENCE IN ORDER TO BE INCLUDED IN REAL EDUCATION.  THIS IS INJUSTICE.  I SOMETIMES FEEL UNDERESTIMATED.  I LIVE WITH A REALLY HARD SITUATION.  I HAVE NO OPPORTUNITY.  MY NORMAL PEERS HAVE OPPORTUNITY HANDED TO THEM.  I FEEL THIS IS DISCRIMINATION. HUNDREDS OF AUTISTIC PEOPLE ARE BEING DISCRIMINATED AGAINST.  I WANT RACISM TO END.  I WANT DISCRIMINATION TO END.  LIFE NEEDS TO BE VALUED REGARDLESS OF THE HUNDREDS OF EXAMPLES OF INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCE.  I NOT ONLY AM MARGINALIZED, I IMAGINE I AM LIVING IN A PRISON. GIVE LIFE TO COUNTLESS OTHERS LIKE ME.  I LIVE WITH INJUSTICE LIKE RUBY DID. I MATTER TOO.  MALIGN INJUSTICE FOR ME PLEASE.

To cap off her unit on Ruby Bridges and school desegregation, Angie presented Liam with a lesson on ekphrasis as illustrated by this painting by Normal Rockwell titled “The Trouble We All Live With.” Do you know what ekphrasis means?  Well, you are about to find out! 

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The Problem We All Live With

To start her lesson, Angie asked Liam if he knew what ekphrasis meant. To her surprise, he said “yes”! She asked him to define it and he spelled IT IS GIVING VISION TO REALLY GREAT ART.  Surprised by this fantastic answer, Angie asked Liam how he knew what ekphrasis meant. He responded,  I READ IT ON YOUR PHONE RECENTLY WHEN YOU WERE MAKING BREAKFAST. Wow! (Note to readers and self! Watch what is on your phone!) It turns out, Angie did have an article on ekphrasis on her phone which she used to create his lesson! For those of us who may need further definition of  ekphrasis, it is one art form expressing the meaning or spirit of another art form. For example, a sculpture depicting some element of a film or vise versa. (One of the best part of creating RPM lessons is how much you will learn in the process! Thanks Angie and Liam, I did not know about ekphrasis but will be creating my own lesson on it soon!)  After further teaching about ekphrasis, Angie challenged Liam to create an ekphrastic poem.   

Here is Liam’s ekphrastic poem.

INJUSTICE HAS IMMEASURABLE HATE
WHEN LIFE MAKES MAN HATE
HIS INTIMIDATION MAKES LIFE IMMEASURABLY SUFFER IN UNTHINKABLE WAYS.
IMMEASURABLE SUFFERING FILLS MAN WITH HATE SO STRONG THAT NO ONE IS SAFE.
NOT EVEN A LITTLE CHILD.
REMEMBER MAN HAS LIMITS IRRESPECTIVE OF HIS CIRCUMSTANCES.
CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE LIFE LIMITS.
NORMAL HARDSHIPS GIVE MAN CIRCUMSTANCES IRRESPECTIVE OF HIS ABILITY.
LIFE CAN MAKE PEOPLE HATE.
INJUSTICE IS MANS TROUBLE.
REMEMBER, NO ONE IS SAFE WHEN INJUSTICE IS SERVED.
HATE MAKES IMMEASURABLE SUFFERING NO ONE SHOULD ENDURE.
GIVE LIFE TO MAN SO THAT MAN IS MOSTLY MIRRORED IN HIS LIFE STRONG.
GIVE MAN LIFE OF EQUALITY.
UNDERSTAND LIFE HAS IMMEASURABLE INJUSTICE,
MAN HAS IMMEASURABLE STRENGTH.

Cognitive lessons are essential in RPM.Parents sometimes tell me that they don’t understand why it is so important to use lessons. They tell me they just want to know what their child is thinking and feeling. These two lessons are a perfect example of why they are so critical to RPM. Not only are they a means of education, which our kids intensely crave, they provide the framework for communication. Through this history lesson on Ruby Bridges, Liam learned about discrimination, segregation, the value of education and the courage that individuals have displayed to fight for their right to receive an education. This lesson gave Liam information about these issues and an opportunity to freely express his opinions about these issues; opinions that we would not necessarily have ever known had the topic not been presented! Angie took it a step further in a second lesson, introducing ekphrasis: presenting Ruby Bridges’ struggle through the lens of art, teaching Liam about Rockwell, ekphrasis, and giving Liam a means to further express himself through an ekphrastic poem. I don’t know about you, but I certainly learned a lot about how Liam thinks and feels!

Once again, we are so grateful to Liam and Angie for sharing their experience, their words, and inspiring all of us to continue learning and communicating through RPM!
~Elizabeth, Liam and Angie

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RPMing at home….You can do it!

Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) is a powerful tool for education and communication. For people who are nonspeaking, low speaking or unreliable speakers (those who talk but are not able to effectively communicate) RPM is a means of expression through learning.  It is an honor to work with kids and adults who are developing the motor skills to point to letters, without physical support, to spell to communicate for the first time. It takes time, patience and plenty of practice to learn to use RPM, both as a student and as a practitioner. The learning curve can be steep and progress can be slow, but with consistent practice, both the student and adult can learn to use the letter boards. One of the most best parts of my job is coaching parents and watching them become skilled on the letter boards with their children. Since I cannot explain how it feels to be a parent going through the process of learning RPM, I asked my client and now dear friend, Angie Paquin, to write a guest blog and share her RPM story.

“I began dabbling in some self-taught RPM with my then 13 year old son, Liam, during the Spring/Summer of 2014 after hearing people sing it’s praises over and over on an unrelated Facebook group. I had heard of RPM and even read Tito’s first book The Mind Tree several years ago, but really didn’t fully understand what it was and how it could benefit my son. I actually never really thought of it for him because he could “talk.” I saw it as something for kids who had no verbal speaking ability. My son can use speech to get his basic needs met, make comments, and even ask some questions. I honestly didn’t think that he had this whole other voice inside of him. I knew he understood a lot more than he could say, but I truly felt that he had some cognitive limitations.

After hearing so many parents talk about how amazing RPM is, I started researching. I quickly found two blogs “Emma’s Hope Book” and “Faith, Hope, Love and Autism” featuring Emma and Philip. What I witnessed there completely blew me away. I was even more intrigued because I saw that Emma talked and that was the first time I saw just how disparate the outside can be from the inside. Seeing is believing, however, I still doubted Liam’s competence and I thought “maybe if we work really hard in a few years he’ll be able to do what they are doing.” I thought I would have to teach him how to read and spell, but saw the letterboard and paper choices as an easier way for him to show his abilities once acquired. I immediately began trying it out at home on my own. I purchased some reading comprehension workbooks and “What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know” and started teaching and asking multiple choice questions. I realize my 13 year old son was not a kindergartner, but that is just how off I was about his competence. It’s hard to believe that was my thinking one year ago. I didn’t get that he had been listening and absorbing information all around him, taking it in like a sponge. I thought I had to “catch him up.” Needless to say, he LOVED it. I can recall him just staring at me in disbelief that I was actually teaching him about continents, the solar system, and art and music rather than drilling him on sight words, making him read first grade primers over and over again, and using manipulatives for basic math facts.

I immediately saw that he could comprehend auditory information and answer anything I asked correctly. I then began making my questions harder. For example, if we were talking about democracy instead of defining it for him I would ask him what he thought it meant – using multiple choice answers. He seemed to know everything. I then began wondering if maybe he could spell some words. I crafted some homemade three letter boards and started having him spell his choices. I had no idea how to prompt, even though that is the second word in RPM! I quickly saw that with the three boards he could spell! Now I was really excited and knew we needed to get to a professional stat; someone that could show me how to apply RPM to Liam specifically, and what this prompting business was all about.

Enter Elizabeth! We were so fortunate to get in to a local workshop happening two hours from our home in October 2014. I was so nervous because Liam has bad anxiety that evokes a fight or flight response and I knew going into this unfamiliar setting we were going to see some fireworks. I talked with Elizabeth about it, warning her, and she was so understanding and confident I had the courage to sign him up and go. That workshop was like a rebirth. I had a son I never met before. It was the first time I heard his real voice. It was so different than the child sitting before me, the child I had known for 13 years. I couldn’t get enough of his voice. It made me laugh, cry, feel angry, and cheer. I tear up just thinking about it! That was the first time I heard that he knew he had autism, even though we really didn’t use the A word. It was heartbreaking to hear how he felt about having Autism. I realized in those five days that RPM and Liam’s education were my absolute top priority. I knew that he needed me to dedicate myself to him and practice everyday because we have no RPM providers in our area. It was me or he would go silent again and there was no way I was going to let that happen.

Liam with Elizabeth, aka "Biscuit" in October 2014

Liam with Elizabeth, aka “Biscuit” in October 2014

We returned home and I immediately began daily lessons. I saw what he could do, how to do it, but really hadn’t done RPM for real myself. But I had confidence that together we could get there. It helped that Liam has predominately been home-schooled and I have implemented every intervention we have tried myself. With that experience, Liam and I were already comfortable with me being teacher and he would work for me. I think that really helped. Each morning I had a prepared lesson and would sit down at our dining room table and channel my inner Elizabeth. Liam loved for me to imitate her and would request that I even do her hand motions! If I didn’t do the hand gesturing he would look at me and lift his hand and start gesturing as my cue to get with it! I found that he loved watching the videos of him working with Elizabeth, who he affectionately calls “Biscuit.” He had his best sessions after watching part of a video so I often let him watch them on my phone in the morning while he ate breakfast. It actually gave both of us a boost so I could perfect my imitation skills!

It was rough going at first, despite all of that. He would often explode very quickly, throwing everything on the floor, sometimes even hitting me, if he didn’t easily get out what he wanted to say. I learned in our workshop that he is a perfectionist and very hard on himself. Having this information, his behavior was more understandable to me. I found the more I was patient and understanding, rather than angry and frustrated, the more he tried to control his temper. I saw a new found sense of self determination in him. I now understand that he gets how RPM is an opportunity for him, to free him from “life in prison” as he has described it. I think, for so long, he saw no out and was just so angry. Blowing up makes sense to me now. His temper management has come a long way since October and we now are pretty much able to do sessions five days a week with minimal to no explosiveness! That is huge for him and a very unexpected benefit of RPM.

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One of our biggest challenges is that I also work part time! So fitting in the lesson planning and sessions can be difficult. One thing I have learned over the years of being teacher, therapist, and mom to my son is that I have to treat our homeschooling hours like a job. A long time ago I started scheduling my time to work with him and I let nothing interfere. I don’t answer my phone, I make sure to schedule other appointments around our time, and I let go of all the things that need to be done such as dishes, laundry, paying bills. I do them later. This is our time and I hold it very sacred, otherwise it won’t happen!

After our workshop, Liam was only able to tolerate about a 20-30 minute RPM session. After RPM I would read to him for 15 minutes from our current novel. I would try to do a second RPM lesson later in the day on the days I wasn’t working, but he was only able to do it about 10% of the time, so I dropped that and just concentrated on building his tolerance and stamina for his first session. I concentrated on getting more and more open communication. At first, it was really hard. I was so nervous to ask him open ended questions, especially the creative writing portion of the lesson where I ask a big open ended question that gets at his thoughts and feeling. I was afraid we would just get gibberish and that he would get mad and I would lose my confidence. I ended up just telling him straight up “I know you have the ability to answer this question, but I am not Elizabeth and this is new for me, so we just have to be patient while I build my skills. Maybe we’ll get there today and maybe we won’t, and that’s okay. One day it will become easy.” By giving us both permission to try and maybe not succeed, it took off some of the pressure. Initially, we had some pretty disjointed sentences and incomplete ideas. But pretty quickly I started getting to hear the child I heard in our workshop and those moments became the thing I treasured most.

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It has not always been easy to hear what he has to say. He’s been dealing with a lot of grief and anger about his life circumstances. Often expressing that kind of emotion triggers weeks of resistance to doing RPM. During those times, I just go to easier lessons or maybe just read to him, watch educational videos, and do math and music theory which is non-emotional and very regulating for him. It’s been hard for me to let go and not get to hear his voice during these times, but I now know that any resistance is not a resistance to RPM itself. I know he craves learning and wants opportunity for himself probably more than I want it for him. It’s simply too much emotion and he needs a break to recover.

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Today we are 10 months out from our workshop experience. I have a whole new understanding of my son and dreams for him that I had let go of many years ago. I see a whole new life for him. I now get that a lot of his “talking” is unintentional and meaningless. That was a BIG surprise. His RPM voice is very different from his speaking voice. He’s told me to “only listen to my spelling.” Today we do RPM lessons Monday through Friday for 45 minutes and read for 15 to 20 minutes. On days I am home, we might read from a history or science text, watch an educational video, practice handwriting and piano; just trying to feed the brain. Some days he’s tired and that’s too much. We try and keep him busy with sports which is something he loves, so he ice skates or roller blades, rides his bike, swims, skis in the winter, and has plenty of time to just be outside in nature as we live on a rural island outside of Portland, OR. He has begun doing lessons with other teachers and is finally and successfully doing a second RPM lesson a couple of days per week. He has a math tutor now as he has surpassed my ability to teach him. He’ll be starting a couple online high school courses this Fall which he has begged for. That will be our new adventure! I’m excited to see where we will be one year from now!

RPM happiness!

RPM happiness!

If I had two pieces of advice to offer anyone starting RPM it would be to have confidence in yourself and your child and to make daily practice a habit, even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes. Schedule the time and make a commitment. I know you won’t regret it!”

We are so grateful to Angie and Liam for sharing their story! In our next blog, we will share some of Liam’s work with his mom on the letter boards. You can learn to do RPM at home too ~ commit to practicing, believe in yourself and your child, allow and laugh at mistakes and enjoy the process!

~Elizabeth, Angie and Liam

 

Ask the Experts – an RPM Panel Discussion

Whew!  It has been a busy Spring and Summer.  I need to get you caught up on all the good happenings that we have had going on! In May, I went to Atlanta for a workshop. We have a thriving RPM community in Atlanta.  A group of families who get together for social outings, learning together and monthly community meetings where RPM providers or other speakers talk to the community about topics of interest. For May’s community meeting, we enlisted the Atlanta “Core Four” – Graciela, Reece, Charles, and John to discuss their views on questions that had been previously submitted and culled together. In the interest of time, one of the “kids” (ranging in age from 11 – 20) responded on the boards with me while the others simultaneously responded with their parents for each question. For some questions, I got follow up responses from the kids.  It was a powerful evening – we had about 70 folks in the audience – parents, educators, therapists and friends, hanging on every letter!

It should be noted that this group of kids have been working on the letter boards daily with their parents and RPM providers for the last year-ish and are quite fluent on the boards. Our gang of RPMers are very involved in the Atlanta RPM community and were the original kids who attended the first workshop and charged all of us to build a community!  (My kids are never shy about community their expectations of me and others!!!) Here is what our panel of autism experts had to say!  (Responses from the letter boards are presented in all capitals.)

Why do you think RPM works for you?

Reece: RPM WORKS FOR ME BECAUSE I CANNOT SPEAK WITH MY MOUTH. MY BODY IS OUT OF MY CONTROL

Charles: SAME FOR ME. I DO NOT TALK RELIABLY. SO I SPELL INSTEAD.

John: I THINK IT WORKS FOR ME BECAUSE IT IS ALWAYS PRESUMING COMPETENCE.

Graciela: BECAUSE I CANNOT TALK. I’VE TRIED SO MANY OTHER THINGS. LEARNED RPM ONE YEAR AGO IT HAS BEEN SAVING ME FROM LIFE IN PRISON.

The audience was captivated by our panel!

The audience was captivated by our panel!

Can you talk to us about the body mind disconnect?

Charles: YES I AM NOT IN CONTROL OF MY BODY. I AM ABLE TO THINK BUT I AM NOT ABLE TO DO WHAT MY BODY AND BRAIN PLAN.

Reece: TELL THEM I PROMISE I WOULD NOT ACT LIKE THIS IF I COULD CONTROL IT.

John: I CAN’T CONTROL MY BODY BUT I CAN CONTROL MY MIND.

Graciela: MY MIND DOES NOT ALWAYS CONNECT VERY WELL WITH MY CARELESS GORGEOUS BODY.

Do you have any recommendations for what should happen when your body doesn’t have control and you are disregulated?

John: I WOULD LIKE TO SAY THAT I AM ALMOST ALWAYS DISREGULATED AND IF YOU WANT TO TEACH ME GET USED TO THAT.

Charles: NOT A PROBLEM FOR ME.  (Charles is a super mellow guy!) 

Reece: REALLY I HAVE VERY PHYSICAL REACTIONS WHEN I TRY TO MAKE MY BODY FOLLOW MY MIND.

John: LUCKY CHARLES.

Graciela: MANAGE THIS WITH RESPECT USE A LOT OF BEAUTIFUL HOMEWORK TO KEEP THE MIND ENGAGED. GETTING THE OPPORTUNITY TO GET A REAL EDUCATION IS SO MEANINGFUL TO MASTER THE CARELESS AND GORGEOUS BODY.

Why do you have to start with the letter boards? Why do you need RPM vs typing/handwriting?

Graciela: RPM LETS ME AND MY AWFUL BODY GET ALONG.

Charles: SO HARD TO EXPLAIN AND YET I KNOW THAT I CANT WRITE OR TYPE LIKE THIS.

John: IT WORKS BETTER THAN ANYTHING I HAVE TRIED AND I HAVE TRIED EVERYTHING.

Reece: RPM AND THE AMAZING LETTER BOARDS HARNESS MY DEVILISH BODY BY CONCENTRATING ON GROSS MOTOR SKILLS AND INTELLIGENCE.

Why are lessons important?

John: THEY HELP ME FOCUS.

Charles: YES I AGREE THEY ALSO TEACH ME WHICH I NEED.

Graciela: BECAUSE THEY HELP MY MIND AND BODY GET CONNECTED.

What is your favorite topic?

Graciela: REAL HARD MATH.

Charles: YOU TEACH ME SO WELL I LOVE IT ALL.

John: OF ALL THINGS I LOVE SCIENCE AND HISTORY

Reece: YES ONLY THING I ENJOY IS ALL OF IT

What do you wish you had in your education?

Reece: YES, I WISH HAD AN EDUCATION… PERIOD. MY EDUCATION CAME TO SOME END WITH MY DIAGNOSIS OF AUTISM.

Charles: MY EDUCATION BEGAN WITH RPM AND I LOVE IT!

John: I WISH I COULD GO BACK TO MICHIGAN AND GO TO SCHOOL WITH MY FRIENDS.

Graciela: TAKE THIS TO ALL TEACHERS. HAVE TO BELIEVE IN OUR INTELLIGENCE.

I heard about RPM from a friend. I don’t know if my kid is smart enough or ___________ (Fill in the blank) enough. What is your advice to them?

Graciela: I THINK THAT IS CRAP. YOUR KID CAN DO THIS TOO. I AM NO DIFFERENT.

Charles: SAME. ROPE YOUR KID INTO THIS. THEY WILL THANK YOU LATER

John: I WOULD TELL THEM ITS BULLSHIT. THEIR KID CAN DO THIS

Reece: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE AN AUTISTIC. YOUR KID CAN AND WILL RISE TO THE CHALLENGE. IN FACT YOUR KID IS HOPING FOR THIS.

What is an obstacle to getting started?

John: FEAR OF FAILURE.

Charles: YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN YOUR KID.

Graciela: WAY SO MANY REALLY LAME REASONS.

How come my kid can RPM with ___ but not me?

John: IT IS HARDER THAN IT LOOKS. IT TOOK MY MOM A LONG TIME TO GET IT. I HAD TO BE PATIENT.

Reece: ITS ALL ABOUT CONFIDENCE COMFORT CONSISTENCY AND CONNECTION.

Charles: SOME PEOPLE ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS AND WE KNOW IF YOU DONT BELIEVE IN US.

Graciela: BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT DOING IT RIGHT. YOU REALLY NEED TO PRACTICE. GET MANY KIND COACHES TO HELP YOU UNDERSTAND ITS A PROCESS.

John: THAT IS THE TRUTH.

My child eats everything. Whats up with that?

John: I DONT KNOW. NOT MY THING.

Charles: SAME HERE. I DONT EAT STUFF THAT IS NOT FOOD.

Graciela: GETTING A LOT OF FEEDBACK IN THE MOUTH IS ORGANIZING FOR ME. What suggestions would you make for oral seekers? LET THEM HAVE SOMETHING TO CHEW ON.

Reece: STRONG INPUT ORALLY. MAKE SURE TO PROVIDE APPROPRIATE ALTERNATE ORAL STIMULATION. GUM SOMETIMES WORKS FOR ME.

What would you say RPM has contributed to your life?

Graciela: RPM HAS MADE MY LIFE MEANINGFUL.

Charles: YOU WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND THE GIFT OF COMMUNICATION IF YOU ALWAYS HAVE HAD IT.

John: RPM HAS MADE ME VERY HAPPY TO SEE THAT I CAN TALK.

Reece: RPM HAS PROVIDED ME WITH FRIENDS TO SHARE SOCIAL AND EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES. RPM HAS IMPROVED ALMOST EVERY ASPECT OF MY LIFE!

What is your advice as parents/teachers start RPM?

Reece: MY ADVICE TO PARENTS IS TO LEARN HOW TO RPM. YOU NEED TO HAVE THE ABILITY TO TALK TO YOUR KIDS.

John: I THINK THAT THEY SHOULD DO IT EVERYDAY. THEY SHOULD ALSO BELIEVE IN THEIR KID.

Graciela: ALWAYS BELIEVE IN YOUR CHILD AND TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS.

Charles: ONLY YOU CAN BE THERE ALL THE TIME. NO ONE ELSE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU TO YOUR KIDS.

John: YES

In terms of looking towards the future, where do you see this next year taking you?

Reece:  THAT IS A GREAT QUESTION, I DONT THINK THERE ARE LIMITS NOW. TODAY I AM MORE FREE THAN I HAVE EVER BEEN. I WANT TO AUDIT SOME COLLEGE CLASSES SOON AND CONTINUE TO MOVE FORWARD WITH MY EDUCATION.

Charles: YOU NEVER KNOW HOW LONG YOU HAVE TO LIVE. GO OUT AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THIS WORLD.

John:THE ONLY THING I WANT IS INDEPENDENCE…

Graciela: GETTING INTO MIT.  ALWAYS LIKE LEARNING ABOUT PHYSICS. FEELING SO READY TO FLY AND SHOW THE WORLD WHAT I HAVE TO OFFER.

What do you our audience to tell their kids/students?

Charle: SOMETHING I WANT TO SAY IS THAT YOU MUST ACT ON YOUR OWN BELIEF IN YOURSELF. For kid or parent? KID.

John: AUTISM IS NOT A HORRIBLE THING. IT IS WHAT IT IS. For kid or parent? KID. STOP ACTING LIKE YOU ARE DAMAGED. I EMBRACE WHO I AM.

Charles: SO TRUE JOHN.

Graciela: YOU MUST GO AND TELL THEM THAT YOU WILL WORK SO HARD TO REACH THEM.

Reece: TELL YOUR KIDS EVERYTHING. SHARE ALL THAT YOU ARE INTERESTED IN. PLEASE KNOW THAT THEY UNDERSTAND. GO JOHN! PROUD TO BE AUTISTIC! YES!

Graciela: MY AUTISTIC FRIENDS ARE RIGHT AND I LOVE THEM.

Our panelists celebrate a job well done!

Our panelists celebrate a job well done!

As you can see, these experts don’t candy coat their message!  RPM is a powerful tool for communication and education and is changing lives all over the world. Our nonspeaking and limited speaking autistic youth have been ignored for too long and are so very eager to learn!  Do you know other RPMers? Get together and learn cooperatively.  Learning is more fun with your friends!

~Elizabeth, Graciela, Reece, Charles and John

 

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