Newly added to our team, Matthew is the resident Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) therapist here at Atlas! Matthew received his Bachelor’s degree from Yale University in History and went on to train under Soma Mukhopadhyay (the creator of RPM)—to be come certified through the Academy of Excellence for Autism (AEA). He sees students (ages 4-21yrs) regularly in the tri-state area and has worked abroad on a number of occasions—most recently in Australia. >> Learn More About RPM
As Matthew describes it “RPM is first used within the context of an academic lesson, where the students use reason to first make simple choices (proving comprehension) and then a letter board (where the student is taught and encouraged to spell), eventually achieving open-ended communication in this manner. With a strong emphasis on communication, RPM can be a particularly helpful tool with building relationships, and for families who are trying to get a stronger sense of their child’s likes, dislikes and unique personalities.” >> Research on RPM
I recently sat down and talked with Matthew (who has amassed quite a following on social media for his work with RPM) :
Nicole Kolenda: How did you get introduced to RPM?
Matthew Kennedy: I was first introduced to RPM a number of years ago when I started working full time with an autistic teenager, who had started practicing RPM about a year before I met him. Through this family, I was exposed to a number of different types of therapies that are common in the world of autism, but RPM intrigued me because it was a clear and tangible way for these children to be able to show, and prove, just how intelligent and capable they really are. In the first few months that I knew this boy, he was able to make significant progress with me in multiple areas, and his mother offered to sponsor me, and send me to Austin, TX to be trained directly by the inventor of RPM, Soma Mukhopadhyay. I had already started working with the boy using RPM before I received this training, focusing on the beginning stages and presenting him with simple paper choices for him to chose the correct answer from. After I returned from the training, we hit the ground running, and within weeks we had reached open-ended conversational communication on the alphabetic letter board. For the next few years, I used RPM to work with this boy for 3-4 hours a day, and really gained valuable experience and a solid working knowledge of how RPM is used. Since embarking on my RPM journey, I have worked with close to 50 students and ran workshops in both the tri-state area and Australia.
Is there a typical student profile that benefits from RPM? A specific age range? A recommended weekly mandate?
I’m going to say “no” to the question about typical student profile, as I have yet to work with any two students who have exactly the same conditions which they deal with or exactly the same set of limitations, aptitudes, or skill sets. I have seen it benefit, even change the lives of students, who range from completely non-verbal, semi-verbal, and those who would be considered more verbal, but still struggle to have fluid conversations with their peers, families and friends. Many of these students become very proud of the RPM work that they do, and even describe it as giving them, or enabling them to find, their “voice”. Even students who can manage more accurate verbal interactions value it as an academic tool and creative outlet. In addition to helping students with autism, I have also heard of it being used with people with Cerebral Palsy and even Down's Syndrome. I have worked with students that range in age from 4-21 years old, although expectations must be adjusted slightly for the younger children, due to reasons of exposure to the alphabet, attention span, and motor skill issues, which are all things that RPM focuses on and will come with time. I do believe, though, that the sooner families find and start RPM the better, as it gives the children more time to develop the necessary skills and hopefully more years with an accurate communication outlet. I would definitely recommend two, or a few, times a week, although if once a week is all a family can manage, that is still good, although progress will be slower. If desired, during our sessions I can teach the parents and/or caregivers some techniques, so they can work with their child in the home setting and hopefully find the time to do some each day with the child.
What does a typical first RPM session look like? How do these sessions change over time?
During the first RPM session, or the first few sessions, I will be assessing the student’s skill set, including hand-eye coordination, depth perception, gaze, whether they are a stronger visual or auditory learner, their ability to tolerate sitting at a desk, ability to make choices, familiarity with the alphabet, sensory issues, and attention span. I like to start with a story or subject that will catch their interest, often fables with a life lesson, or something their parents have told me may interest them. I start by teaching in a state/ask format, so I deliver a piece of information usually with a key word, and then ask a question based on that information for which there is a clear and defined answer. The first step of RPM is what is known as "paper choices”, so as I am asking the question I will provide them with the auditory queue of ripping a strip of paper that becomes associated with asking a question, then I make another rip and write down one answer, then another rip and write down the other answer, and place the answers in front of the student with some other subtle queuing and prompts. I hand the student a pencil and ask them to circle or mark the correct answer. As the student becomes comfortable with making the correct choices, we then move to some simple spelling on either a rolled up letter board with 5 or 6 of the characters showing, or a set of stencil letter boards that breaks the alphabet into three, so A-I, J-R, S-Z. If the student has never had exposure to RPM before, particularly for the younger children, we may not advance past this stage in the first number of lessons. As every student is different, it is difficult to place expectations on how fast progress will occur. The idea is to eventually advance to a letter board that contains all 26 characters of the alphabet. Once they can spell word choices comfortably on this full letter board, and then use it to answer fill-in--the blank style questions, then questions can be asked in a manner that will elicit a answer that is entirely in the words of the student. When this is accomplished, I know that we are well on our way to open-ended and conversational communication. Again, the time it takes to reach this stage varies depending on prior exposure, age, past personal history and education, and their level of gross motor planning/skills. I have had some students up and running on the full letter board in one session, with others it can take weeks or months.
What are the benefits of RPM?
The benefits of RPM are many. Perhaps most importantly, RPM gives these individuals a way to show their parents, families, friends, and educators that they are intellectually capable, and smart, individuals who should be treated as such. In RPM, we work on developing things like a student’s ability to engage in academics, to sit in a chair at a desk, improve motor planning and gross motor skills, process information in an intellectual manner, and use their bodies in a controlled way to demonstrate such. Importantly, RPM also gives this population, one that generally struggles with verbal communication, a true and accurate way to communicate with those around them. Numerous RPM students have stated that with RPM they were able to find their “voice” in the world. Also, once open-ended communication is reached, families will see the unique personalities of their son/daughter emerge, and get to know them, and their interests, preferences, likes/dislikes, in a way that previously was not possible.
You have mentioned the necessity to focus on each individual student's available “learning channels” --can you explain?
Everyone has different learning channels, or ways that we learn things. The primary learning channels are visual and auditory, and the secondary learning channels are tactile (touch) and kinesthetic (movement). For a neuro-typical individual, we are able to pick and chose which channel we will use at any given time, or use a combination of them at the same time. For example, during a college lecture, we can listen to the professor and also watch the slide show at the same time, learning both auditory and visually. For people with autism, it is not so simple, and only one learning channel tends to be open at any given time, or at least, one is way more accessible to them than the others at one moment. With RPM, an experienced practitioner teaches to the child’s strengths and/or open learning channels. The perfect example is when a child appears to not be paying attention because they are not making eye contact. In many other modalities, the session would come to an abrupt halt and would not continue until the child was able to focus visually and/or make eye contact. But what if the child is not particularly a visual learner? Do we just not teach them because they are having trouble fixing their gaze? Absolutely not! In RPM, we use auditory queues to continue teaching the child, as we must remember, just because a student is not looking does not mean they are not paying attention. Quite the contrary, if a student is an auditory learner they are soaking in all the information they are hearing like a dry sponge does water, and we must recognize and respect that. During one session, a student who is particularly auditory and struggles visually had hunched over and had his head between his knees under the table. I continued to teach him, giving the auditory queues of tapping the paper choices on top of the table so he would know which answer was where. After a minute of seemingly not having any response, the child reached up from underneath the table, with his head still between his knees, and placed his hand over the correct answer without even looking, or using his vision, whatsoever. Now, if I was adamant about relying only on this student’s visual learning channel, or participation, we may not have gotten a single thing done during this lesson.
Lastly, how does the therapist use the RPM letter board to translate into the student’s daily communicative life?
This is a question, and answer, with many levels to it. Firstly, while it is true that RPM does begin in a one-on-one therapeutic and/or academic setting, the techniques and skills mastered in these sessions can be applied and utilized in everyday life. Life is all about choices, right? Imagine living your entire life having people guess at everything for you, what you like to eat, what types of activities you like to engage in on the weekends, what clothes you wear, where you go and who you see. Many of these children have never had the ability to have a say in these things, or to communicate accurately, until RPM. Even some of the students who are more verbal can fall into patters like repeating the last option they were given or the last word they heard, rather than what they really wanted to say. RPM can be implemented to improve a student’s life pretty quickly after starting the process, and does not have to wait until open-ended communication on the letter board is attained. Paper choices can be used to give these children options and help them feel like they are involved in the decision making process. Paper choices can also be used to teach various life skills, such as hanging up a jacket or doing the laundry, by breaking these multiple step tasks and breaking them down into each individual tasks that are easier to understand and plan. Also, with the letter board, we see the unique personalities of these individuals come out and begin to bloom. I have had students express that they would really like to pick out their own clothes and even know particular stores at which they want to shop. I’ve had students initiate and then write, entirely on their terms, thank you letters to their parents for never giving up on them, and truly tell their parents they love them for the first time. As very specific and skilled tasks don’t always generalize easily for people with autism, there is usually a disparity between what the student achieves in one of our sessions and what they are capable of achieving with their parents. I am more than happy to teach parents, or caregivers, some techniques to use with their children to aid their own personal communication. Another beauty of RPM is that it can be used in conjunction with other therapies, such as OT and speech therapy, quite well. For speech, we encourage the pupil to repeat the letters they point to out loud, thus building confidence and gaining practice speaking. Also, after writing a word, phrase, or sentence that truly comes from the mind of the student, we can have them repeat those words out loud to give an actual voice to their written/typed words. I have noticed noticeable improvement in this area through RPM, with students beginning to initiate saying the words they spell all by themselves, and as confidence comes, so do the instances of them spontaneously speaking both within, and outside of, an RPM session.
Matthew is now seeing students on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Atlas Foundation for Autism. Please contact me at to inquire about pricing/schedule an appointment.
A beautiful song about children with autism written by Amanda Friedman and performed by Crucial Bridge.
This song is for the angels of the world...
A documentry about the inspiring relationship between a divorced father with sole-custody of his son, Alex, a non-verbal 16yr old on the autism spectrum. (An Atlas Family)