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Scientific research into Soma RPM
Cornell University approached me about conducting some research and I was happy to agree because they were a team of Neuro Scientists. They selected to do a research project titled:
‘Harnessing repetitive behaviors to engage attention and learning in a novel therapy for autism: an exploratory analysis.’
Often people who say they want to do further research into RPM do not properly understand autism or the challenges it presents. They also do not understand that RPM is a skill-building process. In my experience, they are looking to make students ‘prove’ themselves and that is not something I will subscribe to.
I see the extreme sensory challenges faced by my students – outsiders see behaviors. How can someone who sees the actions as 'behaviors' instead of sensory struggles be capable of conducting valid research?
I see the speech and motor challenges faced by our students and the difficulty generalizing skills to new environments – outsiders seem to take an overly simplistic view – if he can do it here he should be able to do it there. How can someone who is measuring intelligence and comprehension based purely on speech and motor performance conduct valid research?
I am against any research where students are put in stressful or testing situations – having to prove their intelligence is insulting and demeaning. I have students who can now independently type and handwrite (including my son Tito) – they are the evidence.’
Why is research into RPM difficult?
The main factor which makes it difficult to conduct a scientific research study into the effectiveness of RPM as a teaching method is the difficulty in establishing a base point or a summit point for a study because :
1. There is a wide variety of ages of the student: RPM can begin at any age - 3 till 70+
2. Students begin with different skill levels. There is no baseline for student response. Different students come with different motor skills. Some students can navigate a letterboard because of their generalized Kinesthetic (or motor skills). Some students cannot and the teacher will teach the student how to respond by making choices and then by pointing at letters and spelling. The motor skill is acquired with practice and the teacher will not give touch/physical support. There are some verbal students who prefer to say the answers aloud. There are some selectively verbal students who have hyper-imitation/echoing back, scripted speech, request- limited speech, OCD- related speech or limited social speech – they will need to be taught to spell their responses and gradually learn to make their speech more purposeful.
3. Students have different open learning channels. The RPM teacher will adapt the implementation of a lesson according to how the learning channels manifest. These individualized adaptations are required for the best student performance and mean that the way the same lesson is presented may be very different from one student to another. The learning channels are the vision, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic and then within each there is a further classification of generalized, selective and global. One student may have generalized vision, selective auditory, global tactile and selective kinesthetic learning channel, another may have a completely different combination.
4. Students have unique impulses, OCD, emotions, excitatory stimulations. A student’s learning and responding may be interrupted by these and the teacher will have to adapt the session accordingly.
5. RPM has no skill ceiling. There is no skill plateau in RPM. A student progresses from 2 choices to spelling on a letterboard with 26 letter choices. The skill extends to spelling on the keyboard, handwriting, navigating the environment and other environmental activities which including self-help skills (navigating the three dimensional surface of one’s body).
Research studies can give us important feedback but are not the only tool we should consider. I focus on my clinical experiences of what works and doesn’t work with my students. I constantly look for ways to help my students further by trying new techniques and testing them out with a number of students. Then, if I find they are effective, I share what I have learned in my books in the hope it will help others.