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.
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.
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.
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