I heard about the work of “Soma” Mukhopadhyay years ago when we were frantically doing hours of weekly speech therapy in order to regain the speech and language James lost when he regressed into autism. James never lost all speech but after his regression his sweet, clear baby talk turned into groping, garbled sounds and words. It took a great deal of effort to talk and putting phrases or sentences together was a monumental task.
I did not pursue RPM because I was under the mistaken impression that it only worked for children or people who were completely non-verbal. James has some speech and honestly it has improved a fair amount in the last two years (I believe as a result of low/frequent dose chelation) so I kept thinking I would stay on the “speech” path and hope for the best. However in 2012 several close friends whose sons were non-verbal went to see Soma in Texas and it completely changed everything. Their boys, through RPM, began to show such knowledge and understanding that it was astounding. I told them that maybe James didn’t have all of that complexity hidden inside of him because if he could talk somewhat, surely that would come out. Well I couldn’t have been more wrong. When James worked with Soma in April of 2013 he never even paused before spelling his first answer to her question. What color is the sky? BLUE. I was so confused! James can certainly say the word “blue” but retrieving it when asked a question is the difficulty. Sometimes he could answer easily and sometimes not at all. Why could spelling the letters by pointing to them on a board be easier than just saying it? And he did spell with ease. His body was relaxed, he looked completely stress free as he chose letters to spell and answer questions.
One answer to why RPM works is what Soma says about the left brain. There is much mystery to what is going on in the brain of a person with autism and it is different from one person to the next, as well as ever changing, but most people agree that there is an under connectivity between the left and right sides of the brain. When Soma introduces herself to a student she is very non-emotional and immediately starts the session with an academic subject. Spelling is a left brained activity. If a student has the opportunity to stay mainly on the left side of the brain for the task rather than needing both sides it makes things a lot easier. In addition to this, the pointing method she has developed is much easier from a motor planning standpoint. The student is given a large alphabet grid held at an eye level that is specifically chosen for them and then handed a pencil and verbally encouraged to choose the first letter of the word they want. The student receives a tactile prompt from holding the pencil, an auditory prompt from the teacher and has a visual prompt in the letter board. It sounds very simple but the result is profound. James picked it up very quickly and perhaps unusually so, but I think it is rare for Soma to work with someone who doesn’t eventually find success in this method. For some students she starts with the lesson being centered around choices (which you can see on her website) but for us she started right away with the letter board.