RPM Happiness

Among a myriad of other emotions -I feel incredible happiness every time I have a Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) session with a client. The joy that comes from witnessing meaningful communication from a person who has lacked the motor control to express their thoughts through speaking is overwhelming!  I have always loved the work I do as a speech language pathologist, but, these days I find work invigorating and just plain happy.

When I first heard the song, Happy, by Pharrell Williams, it made me think of my work with kids with autism. (Listen along as you read – guaranteed to elevate your mood!) The second thing I thought about was Emma. (Thank you to Emma’s family for giving me permission to share her story on this blog). Emma and I have worked together for the past 9 years. She is probably the happiest person I know! Emma is always smiling and laughing and anytime you ask her how she feels her answer is inevitably, “Happy!”. Emma has made significant gains in her ability to speak over the last nine years.  Her words are clear, she is able to communicate a large range of basic needs, but she is not able to engage in meaningful conversation. Emma has a large repertoire of “scripted sentences”, rote phrases, she uses frequently to make requests or comment. She has difficulty using speech to initiate conversations and create novel sentences. While this speech can be very useful in terms of making her basic needs known, it is not always communicative, informative or satisfying. Is your communication restricted to just your basic needs?

Emma and I have been using RPM in our weekly therapy sessions since September. Very quickly, Emma was able to answer factual questions from cognitive lessons with one to three word answers spelled out on the letter board. Gradually, as Emma developed the motor skills and fluency for pointing to the letters on the board, her responses became longer and more detailed. Her language became more flexible, no longer spelling out the kind of rote sentences that she verbalizes. With each session, it became more obvious how much Emma knows and how truly smart she is! I have never doubted that Emma was smart – trust me – she has outwitted me waaaaaay too many times over the years for me to believe otherwise! But, now she was able to PROVE her intelligence, irrefutably, through her responses on the letter board.

Emma points to letters on a letter board to spell words to communicate her message.

Emma points to letters on a letter board to spell words to communicate her message.

On March 12, Emma broke through to “open communication” on the letter board. By open communication, I am referring the ability to create any novel sentence(s) on demand. For those of us who acquired the ability to talk naturally, through our innate, hard-wired language skills, we developed (and use) open communication skills automatically. When my clients reach the stage of open communication, it is noticeable! There is an obvious ease, fluency, precision of language and extremely clear communicative intent that was not present before. It is a moment for true happiness and extreme celebration. It is a moment that opens doors to unlimited communication!

Sometimes I incorporate videos or songs into the lesson during our RPM sessions.  The sessions are as much about learning as much as they are about communicating!

Sometimes I incorporate videos or songs into the lesson during our RPM sessions. The sessions are as much about learning as much as they are about communicating!

Here are Emma’s thoughts on happiness as expressed during a lesson we did on April 1, 2014.  (I have adopted the following protocol to transcribe my lessons: the lesson is presented in regular font; comments I make during the session or about the session are in italics; and the client’s responses as spelled out on the letter board are in all capitals).

Happiness

(We opened up the lesson by playing Happy by Pharrell Williams and got our happy on!) Emma, here are some quotes on happiness.  What do these quotes mean to you? 

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  ~ Abraham Lincoln

MEANS YOU CAN BE HAPPY IF YOU WANT TO BE.  

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

YOU GET TO BE HAPPY WHEN YOUR ACTIONS MATCH YOUR THOUGHTS.

Who said that?  GHANDI

“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”  ~Benjamin Franklin 

YOU MUST SEEK OUT HAPPINESS IT DOES NOT COME FIND YOU.

Who was Benjamin Franklin?  HE WAS PRESIDENT (close!  He was the 6th President of Pennsylvania but most people believe he was President since he is on money.)

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.” Helen Keller

YOU CAN LEARN TO BE CONTENT NO MATTER WHAT IS HAPPENING IN YOUR LIFE.

Who was Helen Keller?  SHE WAS BLIND AND DEAF (note that I did not talk about who Helen Keller was during the lesson.  This is just one example of Emma demonstrating her knowledge that she has absorbed over the years, not from direct instruction.)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Thomas Jefferson

BEING HAPPY IS A HUMAN RIGHT FOR ALL PEOPLE.

Who was Thomas Jefferson?  PRESIDENT

Do you know what document this quote comes from?   BILL OF RIGHTS (Holy Cow!!! Confession time – I had to look the quote to be sure of the source!)

Creative Writing:  What is your philosophy of happiness?  Create a “User’s Guide to Happiness!”  Be sure to state your definition of happiness and how one might achieve and sustain happiness!  

EMMA’S GUIDE TO HAPPINESS

I THINK IT IS EASY TO BE HAPPY. STOP WANTING TO BE DIFFERENT THAN YOU ARE. JUST BE YOURSELF AND ENJOY ALL THAT IS IN YOUR LIFE. INSTEAD OF COMPLAINING TRY BEING GRATEFUL.

I think we can all benefit if we follow Emma’s Guide to Happiness!  Enjoy all that is your life today!  ~ Elizabeth

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2 thoughts on “RPM Happiness

  1. I second the hard truth that I was not immediately familiar with the passage as the Bill of Rights….. Emma is a beautiful, bright kiddo! I agree with Emma’s guide to happiness too – “stop wanting to be different than you are.” I am going to try to think of one thing to be grateful for each time I complain…. may make a difference in my day!

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