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Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) is a teaching method invented by Soma Mukhopadhyay. Specifically meant for nonverbal autism, it involves constantly prompting a student to keep them focused on the matter at hand.
Perhaps most astoundingly, however, it supposedly leads to communication. By spelling out words on a letter board, it has allegedly unlocked the minds of individuals with nonspeaking autism, allowing them to freely express thoughts they were once unable to verbalize. RPM assumes that these individuals have average or even above-average intelligence but are impeded by issues like apraxia and sensory overload. Quite a contrast from our current, generalized view of people with nonverbal autism — that they lack understanding and cognitive abilities.
If RPM really does do what it claims to do, the implications are unimaginable. Intelligent people locked within themselves, unable to communicate anything more than basic needs, stuck in classes that teach them the alphabet and numbers one through ten, could be freed from cages of silence, frustration, and boredom. This would benefit not only them but humanity as well.
Here's the problem, though: we don't know for sure if RPM really leads to communication because no one has studied it.
The reason? Some say it's a rebranded form of Facilitated Communication (FC) — a product of the 90's in which a facilitator supported the hands of nonverbal individuals as they typed on a keyboard. This communication method has been largely debunked and branded pseudoscientific, as research discovered facilitators were unconsciously manipulating the subjects.
Yet proponents of RPM say that there are vital differences between them. RPM does not make use of physical touch, and, most significantly, many individuals who learn to communicate through RPM are eventually able to type independently.
There's no telling which side is correct because, aside from one small study that didn't even study RPM's communication claims, we have no thorough, peer-reviewed literature evaluating the method's efficacy. So we have two sides going back and forth over something we don't even objectively know about for sure.
Enough is enough! We need answers, not just for the sake of scientific advancement but also for the sake of people with nonspeaking autism and their families. Could RPM change the lives of some people with autism, or is it simply a waste of time and money? There's only one way to find out.
Tell the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to conduct or support a solid, peer-reviewed research study on RPM. For the sake of people with nonverbal autism, we need to know the truth once and for all.
Dear National Institute of Child Health and Human Development,
Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) is a teaching method for individuals with nonverbal autism that eventually leads to communication. Since its creation, anecdotal success stories have arisen: children and teenagers with nonverbal autism, once thought to have low IQs and minimal receptive language abilities, showed themselves to have average, or even above average, intelligence, as well as complex thoughts. Through spelling out words on a letterboard or typing on a keyboard or tablet, many have allegedly been unlocked from a prison of silence.
However, RPM is a controversial method. Skeptics have argued that it is merely a rebranded form of Facilitated Communication (FC) — a pseudoscientific method that emerged in the 1990s, in which facilitators supported the hands of nonverbal individuals to allow them to type (in reality, these facilitators subconsciously guided the individuals). Skeptics argue that RPM is functionally the same.
Proponents argue that RPM is not the same thing as FC, however; physical touch is not involved, and participants are eventually able to type independently.
These two sides have clashed over the years. All the while, the communication aspect of RPM has remained completely unstudied. People have jumped to conclusions without having solid, empirical evidence to back them up.
That is why we are asking you to step in and help settle this controversy by conducting or supporting solid, peer-reviewed research that evaluates the efficacy of RPM as a communicational outlet for individuals with nonverbal autism.
The impact of a thorough, carefully-conducted study on this subject cannot be understated. If a group of pioneering researchers discover that subjects using RPM can, in fact, communicate independently, that will open the door to more research — and potentially people with autism who may have thoughts locked inside of them. Finding that RPM does work could give freedom to people who long ago lost hope that their voices would ever be heard.
Alternatively, if a group of pioneering researchers discover that RPM does not work, this could save families vast amounts of time and money they would otherwise be using to experiment with an ineffective method.
Either way, researching RPM will broaden our knowledge and benefit a largely ignored population — people and families who desperately need more knowledge, help, and support.
Communication, something we so often take for granted, is a vital aspect of humanity. If RPM could be an effective method for even some individuals with severe autism, we need to know so that we can give them this human right. And if it doesn't, we need to know that, also. This isn't just about scientific exploration. This is about ethics.
So please — help us settle the debates. Be the pioneer who takes this essential step forward. Let's stop speculating and actually work together to find an answer. Because regardless of what it is, the futures of people with autism and their families depend on it.