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Rapid prompting method

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The rapid prompting method (RPM) involves repeatedly asking questions to a nonspeaking autistic person and encouraging them to answer using a letter board. There is no scientific evidence to support the method and practitioners refuse to let scientists study it.[citation needed] RPM has been compared to the scientifically debunked facilitated communication.

How it works[edit]

A non-verbal person is asked to point at a letter board and spell out words. The facilitator prompts them to point at particular letters.[citation needed] This creates the illusion that the non-verbal person is communicating, when really it is the facilitator.[citation needed]

Evidence[edit]

Anecdotal evidence tells of people who have started with RPM and now are able to use sign language and/or type without outside help.[1] Research hasn't yet validated whether RPM is a good starting point for teaching people to type independently.

Very little research has been done on RPM so far.[2][3] It is considered untested.[4]

New research has cast doubt on the idea that all communication done with a letter board held by an assistant is invalid. Using eye tracking, researchers carefully studied how minimally verbal autistic people interacted with a letter board when asked questions. They found that the autistic people would visually fixate on a letter about half a second before they selected it and would move at a speed of about one letter per second. The researchers concluded that:

The speed, accuracy, timing, and visual fixation patterns suggest that participants pointed to letters they selected themselves, not letters they were directed to by the assistant. The blanket dismissal of assisted autistic communication is therefore unwarranted.
—Jaswal, Wayne, and Golino[5]

Hi, parents![edit]

It's common for the intelligence of nonspeaking or barely speaking autistic people to be underestimated,[6][7][8][9] a fact backed by research.[10] Even if someone doesn't speak (or only says things that seem nonsensical) and has severely impaired motor control, they may understand what is being said.

To evaluate whether your child or loved one is actually communicating, consider:

  • Is someone telling them what to point to, or are they choosing the letters themselves?
  • Is the keyboard or letter board being held still, meaning that your loved one is selecting the letters themselves?
  • Can they learn sign language or another way to communicate quick phrases like "yes" or "no"?
  • Does it only work when one person assists, or does the identity of the helper not matter very much?[note 1]

A good speech and language pathologist may be able to help teach your loved one to communicate in words, spelled or signed or spoken. It's important to verify that it really is your loved one communicating; if something doesn't work, you need to look for a new method. Communication skills are essential for quality of life, so don't give up, even when it's challenging or frustrating.

Notes[edit]

  1. Keep in mind the presence of anxiety, of course; someone may communicate more easily around a trusted person than around a stranger or someone who makes them nervous.

References[edit]