Compiled by Saahil Kurada
Interviewees: Kirti Singh, Stephanie Curry
HALO is a non-profit organization providing Soma® RPM, which is academic instruction leading towards communication for persons with autism. Soma Mukhopadhyay developed Rapid Prompting Method to teach her own son Tito who is a published writer despite his autism. HALO’s clinic in Austin, Texas is where she conducts 1:1 Soma® RPM education and training. For more information, please visit www.halo-soma.org/
We talked to two parents in the Bay Area who are currently using RPM to teach their children. The following interview is meant to give parents a general idea of the Rapid Prompt Method to see if it is something they want to explore.
Give 3 examples of how you use RPM with your child. How did he respond to these?
Kirti: I use RPM to teach my son grade level academics and he is responding very well to it. I have started to use RPM to communicate with him. Though he has some speech, it is mostly need based and when he is anxious he loses that too. He is not able to communicate his feelings. At present our goal is to teach him to express himself by pointing to the letters on the letter board.
My son has responded very well to RPM. He is a kid who struggles to sit even for 10 minutes at school and in home ABA sessions. In some of his RPM sessions he sat for 20 to 25 minutes without stims and not trying to elope.
Stephanie: Whenever possible, we give Ryan written choices throughout the day. Examples of these are choices of where to eat, whether he wants to go to a store or the park, or what lesson topic to work on during the session that day.
We do 15-minute lessons daily. They are mainly curriculum based, but sometimes they have to do with an event coming up (a holiday, doctor’s appointment, vacation, etc) and we use it as a lesson/social story.
We practice spelling his answers and sometimes requests. If he wants to take a bath (and it is not yet bath time, but we have some time) I will ask him to spell bath with the stencils.
Please describe if you initially had any difficulties with this approach (e.g. You may not have followed the method correctly and needed some practice – if so what mistakes did you make initially and how did you correct them later?).
Kirti: My first hurdle was lack of confidence in my teaching skills and my son’s receptive skills, but with time it’s getting better. The second hurdle was that I always doubted myself, as in, am I doing this right? With time, I realized there is no right or wrong way. Whatever is working and the child is responding to is the right way. Thirdly, I spent long hours preparing lessons, because I wanted to say something in a particular way and I had to make my notes to remind me of that. With practice and using the right textbooks that became easier too. I have realized that in RPM, there are a few basic rules that should be followed, other than that, it’s between you and your child. Use any approach or method that works for your child.
Stephanie: YES! In the beginning, it took some time for Ryan to actually sit with me for the lessons. After that, he kept selecting only one side for the answer. After that, he switched to only picking from the other side! It was and still is a work in progress. The best thing to do is to record your lessons and then watch them back. I was able to make small adjustments to what I was doing that ended up helping Ryan (things like talking softer, positioning the choices in the right spot, holding the stencils at a better angle, etc.)
Did your son take time to respond to this methodology? What was his response initially? Did this change over time, and if so how?
Kirti: When we first saw Erika, the RPM trainer, my son was very anxious and all he wanted was to get out of the room. Once we were home, I started giving him choices regarding things he can do, foods he can eat and other everyday stuff, written on a piece of paper. My son has some speech so he will just blurt out some response: especially the choice I mentioned in the end. When choices were written on paper, spelled verbally and tapped with pencil he would pick up the choices he really wanted.
Then we moved on to lessons and he would always give the right answer when presented in the above-mentioned way. We started with simple “give the child the information and then ask him to choose from the 2 choices given on paper by prompting with pencil”. Then we moved to spelling the answers, which I would write on paper in big fonts and he had to point to the letters of the word on the letter board. After few months he was able to spell on his own with the visual support. Now he can give his answer by pointing on the letter board. At present I have to fold the letter board so he has only 5 to 10 letters to choose from to give his answer. Our long-term goal is that he is able to choose his response, when he is shown the full letter board, and finally to type independently.
Stephanie: Yes. As I stated above, it took us quite some time to get into the swing of things. In the beginning, I tried to do lessons that I thought would appeal to him. We ended up making the sessions shorter due to his attention span. This helped too. He now seems to like his lessons and his confidence is growing with his accuracy of spelling his answers.
How many times a day do you employ this method and for what length of time?
Kirti: We are still testing the waters. We do RPM sporadically, whenever we have a few moments to spare. I try to do 1 to 2 lessons a day. I preplan the lessons and aim for 15 to 20 minutes session at each sitting. He still has his school and home ABA sessions so he is pretty busy. We are able to do more sessions on weekends and holidays compared to school days.
Stephanie: We aim for once a day for 15 minutes.
You have a typical sibling. Is she incorporated into these sessions? Why or why not?
Kirti: Right now the younger sibling is not included in the sessions for 2 reasons. One, she is too young to teach methodically and secondly in the initial phase RPM should be done one on one. Once she is more mature and my son is into RPM we definitely plan to include her as one of his teachers.
Stephanie: We have not yet incorporated Ryan’s sister, Grace, in the sessions. I do practice with her and I read her the lessons to see if she finds them interesting (and then I know that I am on the right track!)
How do you make time to run these sessions with your child?
Kirti: RPM is on high priority for us. We plan our day in a way that we can do at least 1 to 2 lessons on school days and more on holidays.
Stephanie: The hardest part is preparing the lessons. This is time consuming, but very important. RPM is much easier to do if you are comfortable with the material and if you are engaged in the material. It is hard to teach a topic that you know nothing about or that is boring to you. Your child will notice that! I write all the lessons during the day while my son is in school.
What advice would you give other parents who may be interested in exploring this technique?
Kirti: Our first brush with RPM was when we attended a workshop by Erika on the RPM methodology. We went for our first session with the mindset that we have tried so many things so it wouldn’t hurt to try one more since it’s available right here in our backyard. My son was super anxious, hyper and totally non-cooperative. Even in this situation, Erika was able to elicit lot of correct answers from him. At home I started to use RPM to communicate with him for his basic needs. He was giving correct answers. He was spelling words and I never imagined he would do that. He was sitting with me without any stims, which was totally unlike him.
I had always wanted to interact with him but he was never there to respond. But, now he is there to interact with me, though in a modified way. For him, I feel biomedical interventions laid the foundation and RPM was the Ahhah moment. RPM is working for my child, but again, every child is different and responds to different therapies. In my opinion, every child on the spectrum deserves at least one exposure to RPM.
Stephanie: It is a long process. We started with Ryan at 7 years old and I am confident that he will one day be able to express his thoughts with everyone. I know that this will not happen overnight. I am working hard now, putting the foundation in place by teaching him academics and spelling. The open communication will come, but I am trying not to rush it!