Finding the Lock – Part 2

“While they were saying it couldn’t be done, it was done.”
~Helen Keller

Day 1

When we arrived at our RPM training, Soma was waiting for us. As in standing in the parking lot, waiting. It was as if she already understood that walking in and sitting in a waiting room would have been difficult for us. She was ready.

I was a bit star struck, having read her books and heard so much about her. Before I could say a word she ushered Rhema into the building. She had a sense of urgency about her; she would not waste time on introductions.

Rhema and Soma. Same height. :)

Rhema and Soma. Same height. 🙂

Immediately she began a lesson on markers – Rhema had managed to grab some on the way in. She spoke with her as if they’d known each other for years. Never once did she use “baby talk” or simplify her speech. Even though Rhema hummed and rocked and scribbled vigorously, Soma conversed with her as if she was listening and understanding everything.

I quickly realized Soma was not only teaching lessons in spelling, math and history, but also lessons in life. She gave advice as if she were passing on gems of wisdom like an old friend.

“Wait. Everything has it’s time.”

“Life has discipline. Strive for discipline. If you don’t, how will they know how intelligent you are?”

“Always respect your teacher.”

Methodically she taught Rhema to spell by instructing her to push her pencil through letters on a stencil board. It was tedious work. I’ve been trying to do RPM with Rhema at home for a few months so it was not unfamiliar to her.

As we were leaving that first day, Hope handed Soma a picture she’d drawn. On the back of the paper she’d written,

Dear Soma, Thank you so much for teaching my sister. There is nothing I want more than for Rhema to talk to me or wright. Love, Hope

Day 2

What happened next, I cannot explain. I am still trying to process it and make sense of it. I watched in utter shock and amazement as ‘better than my best dreams’ happened right in front of me.

Soma gave a lesson in poetry, teaching Rhema to spell the main words in each stanza on the 26-letter stencil board. Then she focused the lesson on rhyming words. She would circle two words in a poem that rhymed and ask Rhema to come up with another rhyming word. To my great surprise, Rhema consistently spelled out rhyming words. Words like SLEEP and PEEP, GROW and KNOW. She often needed help spelling the words correctly, but they were clearly words she thought of herself.

It was stunning to see my silent girl participating and following along. I did not know if she would understand the questions let alone respond in a meaningful way. I kept wondering, Is this really happening?

{I want to clarify that RPM is not FC (Facilitated Communication). Moral support and verbal prompts are common, but there is no physical prompting (as in hand over hand or hand to elbow) for the student when touching/tapping letters. During Rhema’s sessions, Soma periodically repositions the pencil in her hand to encourage her to keep going, but all of the letter pointing and tapping is performed by Rhema.}

Next Soma did an exercise where she would say a word from the poem and ask Rhema think of something that went with that word. “Not rhyming words this time,” she instructed, “Just any word that comes to mind.”

I did not expect this to go well.

Soma wrote the word “morning”. Rhema spelled PANCAKES, only needing some prompting for the last few letters. I don’t think Rhema’s ever eaten pancakes – she doesn’t like them – but on a recent Saturday morning Brandon and I made a big production over pancakes. We tried to make gluten free, dairy free, egg free blueberry pancakes and failed miserably. We had laughed about it. Rhema had been there, of course. She’d been around, in and out of the kitchen, stealing popsicles. Though no one had spoken directly to her, she was taking everything in.

Rhema spelled PANCAKES. !!!


Our pancakes

Soma asked her for more words to go with “morning” and Rhema pointed to more letters: BIRDS and SCOOL.

When given the word “star”, Rhema tapped the letters: IT SHINES.

It. Shines. I kid you not.

My jaw was on the floor. My heart was pounding. My head was spinning.

When it was time to take a break Rhema bolted into an office and grabbed pens and highlighters off the desk. Later, during a lesson about David Livingstone and exploring new places, Soma reminded her that there are some places one is not supposed to go.

She lectured, “Like into the office without asking. And like the cockpit.” (I’d told her about our troubles on the plane.)

Soma continued, “What would you tell me about that?”

Rhema spelled SORY.

I blinked.

Oh, my heart. About everything that had happened on the plane… she was saying sorry. Really? Really? I’d felt so low, so discouraged and now, was God redeeming that struggle somehow, giving me a gift I could never have imagined? It was too much for me to handle. In that moment I couldn’t speak. (Later I would whisper to her, It’s ok, sweet girl. It’s ok.)

I played it over and over in my mind. For the hundredth time I wondered if it was real, if I had imagined the whole thing. I couldn’t wait to get the video recordings of the RPM sessions so that I could make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

I prayed, God, I feel like a child on Christmas morning. I think the gift we’ve waited on for so long is right in front of us. But I’m afraid. Afraid to open it and discover that it’s not the right one. I want to shake it, flip it, turn it over in my hands. Even with everything that has happened… before I can trust this and let my heart hope, I have to see more.

Coming right up…

*Ed Note: For more information about RPM, click here:
A great news story on RPM from last week:–autism-communicate/31214179/

**Ed Note: Rhema’s remarkable success (detailed here) is due in large part to the amazing teachers at her school who have taught her to love letters and numbers and enjoy learning!

14 thoughts on “Finding the Lock – Part 2

  1. Oh my goodness!!!! I have tears in my eyes right now. I just read your post about the plane trip over and was trying to imagine what you all were going through just to get there and was hoping that it had been worth it. And WOW – was it ever! I just absolutely love that she wrote that she was sorry and I guess those hot mess pancakes made quite an impression on her too! 🙂 So thankful for Soma and her methods!! I can’t wait to read more!

  2. Be still my heart. Lord God, we give glory to you!!!! We continue to stand on the promises of your Holy Word! I love you my dear Sister!

  3. God is so good! What a truly amazing answer to prayer! Thanks for letting us be a part if this amazing journey – I feel like I’ve witnessed a miracle from miles away! we will keep you all in our prayers – especially Rhema as she learns to use this new tool! Wow, wow, wow!

  4. So happy for her that she got to see Soma. I wish RPM was utilized in every school. All kids on the spectrum benefit from RPM and so much of their education and communication depends on it.

  5. Cheers and tears here in Chicago for all of Rhema’s success and for the glimpse you are seeing into her capabilities! And for your strength and perseverence.

  6. What a true gift for you! I have followed RH for a while now, commenting only a few times. But know that I root for Rhema and your whole family. My daughter is autistic as well, verbal. But it was a hard road getting her there. I understand your elation at having witnessed Rhema communicate her own thoughts. There is no other lightness a parent can feel than to “hear” their child’s words. Evry step forward, no matter a shuffle or a stride, is progress. Every bit of progress is a victory. Every victory, celebrated. Blessings upon you and your sweet family.

  7. Tears of joy here. Been waiting for this post and my heart is bursting with joy for you. I can’t even imagine (but yet a bit perhaps I can). Out of all the kiddos I “know” online Rhema reminds me most of my Sophie and I so wanted this to work out for you.

  8. This is amazing, I have tears in my eyes! How awesome for you guys; I am so celebrating this with you!! I need to find out more about this method too. I really hope it can be found in Australia. xx

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