Does anyone read the Rhemashope blog?
Let me tell you about Rhema Russell, a severely autistic 15 year old. Rhema was born on April 4 2004 in Massachusetts. Rhema was a colicky baby who barely slept through months. Her sucking reflexes were poor so breastfeeding was difficult. After 1 year Rhema began to regress. She stopped saying hi and never made eye contact. At age 2 after spending time with Rhema's cousins, her parents were suddenly aware of the significance of Rhema’s delays. Months later at the park Rhema ran in dizzying circles on her toes, her head ****** to the side, her eyes half-closed. Mom Jeneil was pregnant, and a friend would get up and chase Rhema every time she bolted. A month later Rhema was officially diagnosed with autism. Jeneil started a blog Rhemashope where she writes about raising a child with severe autism.
Rhema's behaviors often included tantrums, aggression, scratches, bites, hair-pulls, grabs, eating children's artwork, bolting, throwing books, rubbing snot on her hands, just to name a few. For safety reasons, Rhema had nothing in her room except her bed. Her parents realized she had to be placed in a school specifically for children with special needs. Rhema turned 5 and still wasn’t talking. The window of opportunity for speech slammed shut. Early intervention was no longer “early”.
Rhema attended a school specifically for autistic children, where she works 1:1 with a teacher. Her school and therapy programs worked on saying hi, and bye, to speak words unprompted, to write, to
make eye contact, nonverbal imitation, joint attention. This was challenging, as Rhema often bolted, drawing lines, and needed a lot of physical prompting and guidance. At age 7, her IEP goals included to answer the question "what is your name?" and naming a body part. When Rhema was 2, Jeneil read The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss every night, and tickle her “feet, feet, feet!” Now, five years later they're still working on it. One of Rhema’s evaluation letter included “Rhema’s language is prompted
throughout all activities and with all conversational partners. Rhema’s spontaneous one word speech is not only inconsistent but often inaudible…”
When Rhema was 11, she went to Texas to learn The Rapid Prompting Method (RPM), a technique developed by Soma Mukhopadhyay, an Indian chemist, teacher and mother to a severely autistic son. RPM is a communication method where autistic people point to letters on a stencil board. At school Rhema never moved beyond counting and identifying letters, but
her mom was floored as she watched her silent daughter answer questions correctly in math, English, science and history.
During day 3 Rhema bolted into a building and attempted to swipe markers from the office. But the main office door was locked, and Rhema was resistant to walk away from the door. When moving to the classroom to begin a lesson, they realized that Rhema had cut her hand, most likely during the struggle at the office door. Soma said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I must have cut you with the
pencil.” Rhema touched the scratch on her hand. Soma said, “I’m so sorry. Does it hurt?” She held up the stencils. Rhema spelled, IT WAS MY FAULT. Mom Jeneil was in disbelief. Then a lesson in math and geograpy, where Rhema answered all the questions correctly. Jeneil began crying.
At home they worked on RPM every day. Rhema gave a speech in a college classroom to prospective special education teachers, is as deeply religious
as her mother, gave a speech at church, made a neurotypical friend, started attending a mainstream school, gave a speech at California Lutheran University. Rhema and her family moved to Poland, where she takes online classes, travels accross Europe, and is learning Polish. Rhema and her mom exclusively post on their Facebook page now. https://www.facebook.com/rhemashope
On her 15th birthday she wrote:
“today i am fifteen. even though i mostly cannot do things that other teenagers can do i am just like them inside. even though i do not talk i still have lots to say. my life is good and mostly happy. having my voice is my something nice. my only wish this year is for you to really make time to listen to lots of autistic people and god. love rhema.”
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