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!
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.
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!
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.
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!”
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.
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