This Stories of Autism photography session was very unique in that Joey’s mother requested that I document Joey with the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) therapist that has “given Joey his voice.”
Arrangements were made, and on a Friday morning in February, I was able to witness his RPM session with Alyssa Roberts first hand. I have been able to see RPM used in person many times now, but watching a student who has only been able to make a few sounds, answer grade-level academic questions is truly remarkable.
From the Halo-Soma RPM website: “RPM uses a “Teach-Ask” paradigm for eliciting responses through intensive verbal, auditory, visual and/or tactile prompts. RPM presumes competence to increase students’ interest, confidence and self-esteem. Prompting competes with each student’s self-stimulatory behavior, and is designed to help students initiate a response. Student responses evolve from picking up answers, to pointing, to typing and writing which reveals students’ comprehension, academic abilities and eventually, conversational skills. RPM is a low-tech approach in that is requires only an instructor, student, paper and pencil.”
The essay from Joey’s mother follows:
Joseph was born on September 1st, 2002. He had thick black hair and a healthy cry. No one could have prepared us, his parents, for the long journey ahead. He was a typical beautiful baby boy. He walked in his first year and began to say a few words. He loved playing with his brother and followed commands.
We noticed a change in him around 1 1/2 years of age. It was difficult to gain his attention, he was crying a lot and spinning around in circles. He regressed into a world of silence. For us it was like tripping on a gnarled branch crossing the way ahead. We weren’t sure if something might be wrong, but things did not feel right. Fear, darkness, and uncertainty set in, as if we had been pushed down a cliff and fallen into a deep ravine.
Joseph was evaluated and then evaluated some more. He began speech therapy at the age of 3. Eventually he was diagnosed with severe PDD-NOS at the age of 4. He spent the next 4 years in intensive ABA therapy, private speech therapy, and occupational therapy. Over time he began to lose the few words he had, but was able to understand language and follow simple commands. He was taught simple sign language and PECS to use at home.
Our young family climbed many hills together in search of an unknown destination. We tumbled over boulders and found our way around branches along the route. There were so many high points like when his older brother spent an entire summer trying to get him to say, “Hi,” and he did, or when we were able to go on vacation for the first time as a family, or go out to eat at a restaurant without a meltdown.
There were also many low points like his aggression and chronic illnesses. We tried so many different strategies in order to help Joseph: GFCF diet, B12 injections, vitamins, probiotics, and finally medicines. We kept drifting along the narrow path of solitude in hopes of finding a cure. Joseph remained silent. He had been in special education, speech therapy, and occupational therapy for well over a decade with minimal improvement. I remember when he was first diagnosed, I poured myself into books. I will never forget reading about a woman, Soma, from India, with a son, Tito, who was able to speak with the use of a letter board. It seemed so interesting to me at the time, but also seemed so distant and far away. Little did we know that eventually an Autism organization would sponsor Soma and her son to travel to the United States in order to teach others how to use this technique.
Almost a decade later someone from my area would travel to another state to be taught by Soma. She would learn how to use this technique, and a few friends, recommended that we try this therapy with Joseph. Feeling lost and hopeless, all we could see was a deteriorating path that had seemed to come to an end. We hired Alyssa to try Rapid Prompting Method with Joey last summer.
After a month, Joey seemed happier. It was like seeing sunlight peek through the forest cover of the treetops. He was indeed able to learn how to use a letter board and communicate lessons he had been taught. We had finally found a glimmer of hope for Joseph in our weary travels.
Joseph’s school was also supportive and wanted to be taught how to use this therapy with him in school. He went from a diagnosis that saw him as an 18 month old cognitively to someone who had the ability to take a pre-Algebra test and be in a regular education Science and Reading class in 8 months. This gift was the ability to give Joseph, at the age of fourteen, a path outside of his world of silence and solitude.
Sonja, mother of Joseph
To read more about Stories of Autism, click here.
Links to other RPM-related posts from the blog