Every RPM session contains a moment that wows me – a perfect word choice, an idea that has been given a voice, or a revelation that has been hidden by silence. Then there are the sessions that just knock me out! This was one such session.
Ian was one of the first kids I thought of in that second when I realized all that RPM can offer for low or nonspeaking kids with autism. I often develop close relationships with my clients and their families. A lot of life happens when you work with families one or more times per week for years, sharing that creates a bond. Ian and his family became family to me. Our relationship began with an emotional start with our initial assessment the day after September 11th. When I called Rosaleen (Ian’s mom) to see if she was still up for the session, she said “no, but I think we need to do this so we can feel normal!” Right then, I knew Rosaleen was my kind of person! Besides being a client, Ian and his family were neighbors, so our families also grew close. I saw Ian five days a week for five years until his family moved from Northern Virginia to Seattle, Washington. Over those years Rosaleen and I worked side by side in therapy sessions with Ian; shared many meals; taught Ian his first word and his first “I love you”; laughed and cried; my kids babysat for theirs; and we even went on a few vacations together. Ian is the closest I have come to having an autistic family member – I know this does not remotely compare to the experience of parenting a child with autism but this relationship gave me a great vantage point to understand families just a tiny bit more. Despite the current geographic distance, we have remained close over the years.
When I called Rosaleen and told her of the experiences I was having using RPM with nonspeaking kids she immediately booked a flight and came back to Virginia for a 8 days over Ian’s Spring Break. We did an intensive RPM “bootcamp”. Ian is a very limited speaker – a repertoire of single words and a handful of communicative phrases. Ian (now 15 years old) took to the letter boards like a fish to water! It was an extraordinary and emotional week – lots of happy tears, long hours, and incredible communication on the boards. It has taken me so long to write about this because I could not find a way to capture the intensity of this experience in a blog sized bite. So, when I am at a loss for words, I have found my best recourse is to let my kids do the talking! Here is what happened the evening of day 5, when I suggested we have a text conversation with Eric, Ian’s dad who was home in Seattle with Ian’s older brother, Karl. (Huge thanks to Ian, Rosaleen and Eric for giving me permission to share their story!)
I: HI DAD. I AM SO EXCITED TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH YOU FOR THE FIRST TIME.
Dad: Is that you Ian?
I: YES ITS ME FAR FROM HOME
Dad: I have been watching videos of how hard you have been working. I am so proud of you. I love you so much!
I: IT HAS BEEN THE MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE
Dad: It has been the most wonderful experience in my life to see how smart you are. I always thought you were smart. Now we all know you are actually much smarter than we ever imagined. What do you want to do when you get home?
I: AFTER I GET HOME I WANT TO HANG OUT WITH YOU. MAYBE WE CAN GO TO A SOUNDERS GAME.
Dad: I didn’t know you like soccer. Do you like our long car rides?
I: I LOVE OUR CAR RIDES TONS
Dad: What is your favorite thing about the car rides?
I: ALL OF IT IS GOOD BUT I REALLY LOVE THE TIME ALONE WITH YOU. YOU ARE MY BEST FRIEND.
Dad: And you are my best friend. It seems you really like to listen to the satellite radio. What is your favorite station? What is your favorite band?
I: MY FAVORITE STATION IS THE OLDIES STATION. NO PARTICULAR FAVORITE BAND.
Dad: Do you like the Nordic Rox music show on channel 28 on Sunday nights? Do you like to go boating? Should your Mom and I get you a cell phone so you can text us? Am I asking too many questions? Do you want to ask me something?
I: I DO NOT LIKE NORDIC ROX. DO YOU? JUST WITH YOU (referring to the boating question). NO, I DON’T NEED A CELL PHONE. I LOVE YOUR QUESTIONS. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE MERCER ISLAND RESTAURANT?
(Elizabeth in a side conversation with Ian: “Ian, what is this Nordic Rox?” IT IS TERRIBLE!…..This was later relayed to Ian’s dad during the text conversation).
Dad: It is hard for me to answer the question about my least favorite restaurant. I would have to say the new Pho place next to Rite Aid is my least favorite. Do you want to go to the new museum of science and industry?
I: I WOULD ENJOY GOING THERE WITH YOU. WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING THING YOU HAVE EVER DONE?
Dad: I love Nordic Rox!!!!
Dad: I have done many interesting things like fly an airplane, travel to different countries, dive under water, take apart a tractor, fished in Alaska, and driven across the country. I have to say that knowing you is turning out to be extraordinarily interesting.
Dad: If you don’t like Nordic Rox, why do you let me listen to it? Why don’t you change the channel?
I: YOU LOVE NORDIC ROX SO I PUT UP WITH IT
I: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT.
Dad: Thank you! (re: Nordic Rox). Do you have a message for Karl? I will go home from work and see him soon.
I: I DO HAVE A MESSAGE FOR KARL. TELL HIM I MISS HIM AND HE IS A GREAT BROTHER. PLEASE TELL HIM HAVE A GOOD TIME IN COLLEGE AND I AM PROUD TO BE HIS LITTLE BROTHER.
Dad: When I was ten years old I had to do a math problem in front of my class at school. When I was in the middle of doing the problem, my nose started to bleed a lot. I had to leave the room.
I: THAT STINKS. I LOVE YOU AND WOULD HAVE GIVEN YOU A HUG IF I HAD BEEN THERE.
Dad: (sent a text picture) THIS IS A PICTURE OF THE SUNSET OUTSIDE MY OFFICE TONIGHT
Ian’s Mom asked Ian if he wanted to see it and he quickly responded “no”. She said, “what if I just show it to Elizabeth?” Ian then yelled NO! and became upset. I turned to Ian and said, you don’t have to see it, but what is going on with the yelling? He replied on the letter board,….NO, I DON’T WANT TO SEE IT BECAUSE IT WILL MAKE ME TOO HOME SICK (wow! This made me really think later about all the “outbursts” that kids with autism have that we attribute to “behavior” and being “out of control”…..imagine all the logical reasons like this that we have missed because they did not have the means to tell us. I will think long and hard about this moment for quite some time).
Dad: I will tell Karl what you said. I would give you a big hug too.
Dad: Do you like to fly on airplanes? And do you want to visit anywhere?
I: I LOVE TO FLY BECAUSE IT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A BIRD. THERE ARE SO MANY PLACES I WANT TO VISIT. ALMOST ANYWHERE WOULD BE FINE AS LONG AS WE WERE TOGETHER.
Dad: I love to fly too. We should fly over Seattle! I am so happy to talk to you it makes me cry tears of joy. I want you to have many great nights and days! You deserve it because you work so hard.
I: THIS HAS BEEN THE GREATEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE
I feel truly privileged to have been a witness to this moment. So beautiful! THIS is exactly why I do this work! Be on the lookout for a few other glimpses of our fantastic time together in future posts. And sorry Nordic Rox, I suspect your listenership may have just gone from 2 to 1! ~Elizabeth
P.S., I will be going out to Seattle to give a RPM 4 day therapeutic workshop. If you are interested in more information or attending please send me a private message on the Growing Kids Therapy Center Facebook page.