Mayo parents free the minds of their autistic children

Monday, 9th March, 2015 3:35pm

Mayo parents free the minds of their autistic children

Some Mayo mothers who went to the RPM workshops with their autistic children.

ADAM Galvin was diagnosed with autism at a young age and had always been non-verbal. His mother, Caroline, had tried all sorts of different approaches and treatments with her son over the years but by nine years of age he had made only marginal progress and was attending the autism unit in Swinford National School.

Then Caroline introduced him to Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) in September 2013.

RPM is a teaching method that teaches the child to respond to the teacher, not through speaking but through making 50/50 choices on paper. Gradually the child is taught how to point to letters on a letterboard and then he can spell his answers.

RPM recognises that autism is not a lack of cognition but a difficulty in motor control and a lack of speech.

The effect on Adam was truly revolutionary. The trainer proved to his parents that he could understand everything they said and that he could already spell. He just had no way of showing them. Before the end of the three-day workshop he spelled out that his favourite colour was orange and he knew God lived in Heaven.

Adam wasn’t the only child who surprised his parents at that workshop. Cian Cotter, aged 10, was able to communicate his thoughts and prove his academic ability. In fact, all six families who completed the workshop discovered that their children could indeed understand what was being said to them and they all responded to the trainer, proving that they were of normal intelligence on the inside but just had never been able to display that intelligence before. Their ability to communicate had been set free.

The revolutionary thing about RPM is that it presumes normal competence and teaches the autistic child to respond and eventually spell using age appropriate curricular content that most children with autism are never exposed to. Now they suddenly realise they can express their thoughts through spelling words and sentences on the letter board, eventually using a keyboard or iPad that speaks what they’ve written.

This is particularly a profound breakthrough for those autistic children with severe speech problems.

Fiacre Ryan’s journey with RPM has been similarly life-changing. Aged 13, from Castlebar, he was attending the autism unit in Newport National School, doing very basic academic work. He completed the first RPM workshop in September 2013, observed by his teacher who immediately started using RPM in the school unit. 
Indeed, Newport NS is the first primary school in Ireland to have staff trained and experienced in using RPM.

Fiacre even spelled a message for Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the opening of the school’s extension. It read: ”We want an education.”

His progress was breathtaking and by last September he was able to move to Swinford Secondary School, attending classes with his mainstream peers, doing eight academic subjects for his Junior Cert.  

Fiacre has written: “Please always have faith in me and others with autism. Hope I can show people our potential.”

Seosamh O Laimhín from Foxford completed his workshop this August. He is 16 and suffers from severe epilepsy, osteoporosis and autism. His parents had been told that Seosamh had a mental age of two years.

His mother Nuala said: “Now we realise that he can understand everything we say. We have also discovered through RPM that he can spell, even though he was never taught to.”

He is expressing himself through the stencil boards and is now able to tell his parents when he is in pain and how he is feeling after a seizure. Nuala added: “These were all things we had to second guess before and we now realise that we were often wrong.”  

Cian Cotter, at the last workshop, to the surprise of his parents, told of his love of music and spelled out: “Never should a person live life without hearing music. Most find autism hard but imagine never hearing anything. Argue with me on this and you will lose. Not hearing is worse.”

“It is like meeting your child for the first time,” explained Mary Kiernan, mother of Darragh, aged 17, from Manulla. Darragh has recently gone from the autism unit and joined his peers in sixth year for history and geography classes. He is also doing very well in maths. Through this new method society will have to redefine what autism is.

The Swinford RPM workshops have been attended and observed by parents, teachers, speech therapists, special education lecturers, psychologists and representatives from Western  Care and from the National Council for Special Education.

The next one is planned for March 2015 and will feature Erika Anderson of ACE Teaching and Consulting Ltd. She is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA.  

The organisers are running various fundraising events throughout the county, so keep an eye out and try to support this very worthy cause to help these courageous parents who only want to  help other families of children with autism.

RPM Ireland can be contacted at (086) 6020582 (Caroline) or (086) 4134847 (Nuala).

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