‘I found my voice’: Calgary teen hopes to inspire others with autism to try new form of communication

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‘I found my voice’: Calgary teen hopes to inspire others with autism to try new form of communication
WATCH: A relatively new educational form of therapy for people living with autism is changing lives. It uses no high tech and is a rather simple form of communication. As Jill Croteau reports, a Calgary teen who doesn't speak has been working on it for the past year and half and has found it life-altering – Jan 10, 2023

A Calgary teenager living with autism wants the world to know the benefits of a form of communication he says has changed his life.

For most of 19-year-old Eric Herzog’s life, who is non-verbal, he was never able to articulate with words his deepest thoughts or what he dreamed about.

“It’s like being trapped,” Eric said through his communication partner Madison Martin.

Mo, Herzog’s Mom, said she discovered RPM (rapid prompting method) about a year and a half ago.

“It was a shot in the dark and my friend mentioned it to me so I thought we would give it a try,” Mo said.

What happened during his twice-a-week sessions with Martin at Mentoring Minds was extraordinary.

“In an RPM session, we use letter boards and lessons as our tool,” Martin said. “In a lesson, I’m engaging students in a teach-ask loop. I am teaching them information. We start from known answers and gradually build up to more open-ended communication.”

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Madison Martin and Eric Herzog doing an RPM session. Jill Croteau/Global News

Martin uses the alphabet board and Eric points to the letters to form words and sentences.

“High tech can be overwhelming for autistic people. There’s iPad apps but often there’s a lot going on and we find a low-tech approach initially works the best,” Martin said. “Eventually we hope to grow them into an iPad or keyboard.”

Because of this method, Eric is no longer speechless.

“It was life-altering,” Eric said through Martin.

Instead of feeling trapped, Eric now feels free.

“We get two hours of peeking inside Eric’s head and see what we’ve never seen for 19 years, and every session I know more about my son,” Mo said.

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“When he started, Eric had very little ability to communicate inner thoughts and dialogues and it was very emotional and lots of tears have been shed in this office,” Martin said of Eric. “He was talking and saying cool things and how his brain worked and how he tastes colors and things you could never assume to imagine.”

Wayne, Eric’s Dad, said it was hard to believe at first.

“Before RPM he would take us by the hand to show us what he wanted. That was the only way he used to communicate with us,” Wayne said.

“I’m a natural skeptic and for a long time, I didn’t accept what was going on here. Before RPM I thought he had the intellect of a three or five-year-old, and seeing this and what he is capable of and his thoughts in his brain, I feel guilty. I underestimated him all these years.”

The Herzog family. Jill Croteau/Global News

“I could never ask him, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Now at least here he’s able to communicate what’s going through his head when he does certain things,” Wayne added.

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Mo was especially moved by one of Eric’s initial conversations.

“When he typed, ‘Mom I love you,’ I lost it. I know my son loves me but I’ve never heard those words,” Mo said.

As for Eric, he said he felt “blessed” to be heard for the first time in his life.

Eric said he wants to go to college one day and study to be an educator.

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