“Plankton Dreams” – a story about a remarkable young man’s journey out of silence

Tito and Soma Mukhopadhyay

Tito and Soma Mukhopadhyay

We want to thank Sheree Burke for for bringing our attention to Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay’s latest publication, “Plankton Dreams: What I Learned in Special Ed.” This book offers an insightful look into the life of an extraordinary young man locked in silence who learned to communicate with the outside world in an extraordinary manner.

In his introduction, Tito wrote, “I am calling this book What I Learned in Special Ed because I did learn things in special education—not what I was supposed to learn but important things all the same. Although I had other ways of studying history, physics, and mathematics—Mother never waited for schools to educate me but instead assumed this role herself—I still wondered how a structured learning environment treated its charges.”

Download “Plankton Dreams: What I Learned in Special Ed.” (PDF opens in new window/tab.)

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So, who is Tito Mukhopadhyay?

Tito was born in India in 1989, and was diagnosed with severe or low functioning non-verbal autism when he was three-years-old. At that time, his mother, Soma, was told to “keep him busy.” But that was an unacceptable prognosis for her, so she developed her own intensive educational curriculum for Tito. Activities included reading textbooks and classics, prompting him to point to numbers and letters, and physically motoring his body through the motions like bicycle riding. These activities became the basis for Soma as she created a new education and training program, which came to be known as the Soma® Rapid Prompting Method (RPM). And her efforts were rewarded; Tito learned to write independently by the time he was six-years-old.

Tito communicates through writing, and learned to develop his reading, writing, and thinking abilities through the educational method developed by his mother. He became a prolific writer who provides unique insights into the nature of his autism. His first book, “Beyond the Silence: My Life, The World and Autism,” published in 2000, is a collection of prose, poetry and philosophical texts in in which he reflects on how his autism affects his view of the world.

In 2001, the Cure Autism Now Foundation offered Soma a fellowship to develop her teaching method at a school in Los Angeles, working with nine children with autism. Since then, Soma has refined the Rapid Prompting Method while instructing hundreds of students throughout the United States. Cure Autism Now (now merged with Autism Speaks) sponsored Tito and Soma to travel to the US so he could participate in scientific investigations, and so she could teach them her method. Scientists who studied his case included distinguished neuroscientist Dr. Michael Merzenich and other doctors. He has been interviewed and/or profiled by numerous journalists and authors at many major media companies such as ABC, CBS, National Geographic, New York Times, Scientific American, PBS, and CNN.

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About the Rapid Prompting Method

According to the HALO website, “Soma® RPM is a method that, through practice, patience and consistency, can be used by parents and professionals with their students. Incorporating a daily discipline of using the method for academic teaching and to introduce the concepts into the student’s daily life is best.

The Rapid Prompting Method uses a “Teach-Ask” paradigm for eliciting responses through intensive verbal, auditory, visual and/or tactile prompts. RPM presumes competence to increase students’ interest, confidence and self-esteem. Student responses evolve from picking up answers, to pointing, to typing and writing which reveals students’ comprehension, academic abilities and eventually, conversational skills. RPM is a low-tech approach in that is requires only an instructor, student, paper and pencil.

For more details about the RPM process, read “Learning RPM” on the HALO website.

Since students are most familiar with the primary caregiver, we generally recommend that person to be the one to start using RPM at home by reading daily age appropriate material to their student. The primary caregiver can also work with the child by offering written word choices and begin having the student to spell selected word choices. Eventually, students learn to provide their responses by either spelling, handwriting and/or speaking, leading towards open-ended communication.