New York, N.Y.—Imagine a child who has autism, whose whole existence is punctuated by a deafening silence and whose ability to communicate with others is stifled by a complex developmental disability that is characterized by a lack of proper social skills, repetitive behaviors and, at times, nonverbal communication.
For families of autistic children living in the small town of Newport, County Mayo, there is a glimmer of hope.
Empowered by a technique called RPM (the Rapid Prompting Method), these families, with the support of the County Mayo Foundation (CMF), have embraced this powerful teaching method that is currently being taught throughout the county, in homes, mainstream schools and centers with special autism units.
Unlike other methods of reaching non-verbal autistic children, RPM encourages students to respond to questions using a stencil board, laminated letter board or eventually a keyboard or handwritten note.
Its success lies in the belief that autism is not a lack of cognition but a difficulty in expressing oneself due to poor motor control and speech.
Caroline Galvin’s son, Adam, 13, was diagnosed with autism at a young age. Galvin tried all sorts of approaches and treatments with her son. Even at age 9, he had made little progress, until in 2013 she introduced him to RPM.
Its effect on Adam was revolutionary. Galvin said it proved that he could understand everything that was being said to him, and to their amazement, that he could spell. The effect on subsequent other children has also been remarkable, including the progress made by 17-year-old Fiacre Ryan of Castlebar, a non-verbal autistic teenager and a student of RPM who was featured on an Irish television documentary, “Autism and Me.”

“Siblings have been able to communicate and connect with their brothers and sisters for the first time, finding common interests and hobbies,” said Galvin of the positive knock-on effect it has had on the region’s families. “This has helped break the silence of the voiceless, giving them hope and vision for their future,” she added.
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Numerous other children have benefited from the RPM method, including 20-year-old Darragh Kiernan of Balla, Co. Mayo, who can be seen in this YouTube video being coached by his sister Becky. Darragh is expressing his joy at feeling confident for the first time in his life. Darragh’s mother, Mary Kiernan, says, “It’s like meeting your son for the first time.”
Special education teacher Claire Philbin has been using RPM with a number of local children in the Castlebar area, but also visits schools and adult services countrywide to provide guidance to parents and teaching staff on how to correctly implement the program.
The workshops are provided through a project known as the Autism Tutor Training Program, which seeks to help children with autism communicate.
Philbin will participate in advanced RPM training at the HALO Clinic in Austin, Tx., in February, thanks to the fundraising efforts of the CMF and others. Currently, tutors from the U.K and the U.S. are being brought in to offer training in the community.
“So far, the journey has been blessed and I am continuously amazed at the gift and privilege of being involved in such a life-changing work,” said Philbin. “Teaching children and seeing them progress has always been rewarding to me, but seeing the inner world of a trapped child unfold for the first time is at a whole different level.”
CMF President Jim Waldron said he is proud of the organization’s partnership with this worthy cause.
“The work that is being done by the Autism Tutor Training Program is truly extraordinary and gives the Irish American diaspora a great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these individuals,” he said.
To donate to this worthy cause, visit the CMF website at