Back to The Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List 2018

Our Winner: Christopher Finnes

Category: Advocacy, policy and media

I watched stunned as Christopher spelled, letter by letter, thoughtful answers.

Candid communicating; teaching RPM

Christopher received six individual nominations – the most of any nominee – for the Leaders List awards.

As award organisers we are truly humbled by these testimonies and because no editing could do them better justice, we have reproduced three of them in full below.

Christopher is an extraordinary inspiration to so many and a very worthy winner of the Leaders List Award.

Nomination 1

It is with great pleasure that I nominate Christopher Finnes for the ‘national impact’ category, though in fact, his reach is international. I am the parent of a young, non-speaking autistic girl in the United States.

About five years ago now, when we were searching for some means of allowing our daughter to meaningfully communicate, we came across a teaching methodology called the Rapid Prompting Method.

Chris Advocacy LDA Leaders' List 2018

Although intrigued, having been through the mill with all manner of methods that had not worked for my child before, I was sceptical. I dragged my heels for several months and finally stumbled upon a YouTube video of Christopher working on an academic RPM lesson.

I was stunned by what I saw: I watched as Christopher spelled—letter by letter—thoughtful answers to a lesson on economics, I believe.

Now, YouTube is of course full of all manner of videos that claim to show so-called “autism miracle stories”—it’s a genre I was well familiar with.

This, however, was something different. While Christopher was spelling his thoughtful responses, he was also having what so-called ‘autism professionals’ call ‘dysregulation’—he made use of a chew tube, movement (was rocking and shifting in his chair), and occasionally bit his hand.

In other words, it was not IN SPITE of his autism that he was having these nuanced thoughts, it wasn’t because he had been ‘cured’ of autism, he was all of these things that we as a society have wrongly, tragically, decided cannot coexist: autism, neurodivergence, atypical ‘behaviours’ and intelligent thought, empathy; *humanity*.

I saw my young daughter in Christopher: she too is in near constant motion during lessons, makes use of chew tubes, and occasionally bites her wrist.

It takes tremendous bravery and generosity for a person to share footage of themselves that includes so-called ‘behaviours’ that our society so deeply misunderstands and shuns.

Christopher knew, however, the impact that real autistic representation can have and so he has shared a gift that few of us, if put in his shoes, would have the courage to.

It was because of Christopher’s courage that we, too, found the courage to move forward and start working in earnest. It is in large part because of Christopher’s tenacity and generosity that my daughter is now able to communicate herself; writing poems, essays, and snarky remarks about my ‘ancient music taste’.

I will never be able to thank Christopher enough for the gift he gave our family—this nomination is a small token of thanks from our family and the many families around the world whose lives have been changed by his work.

Nomination 2

Chris has been an encouragement to the autism community as a whole, not only in his surrounding community, but internationally.

Chris and his mother, Sue, are the reason my son was brave enough to try Soma RPM. Soma RPM is an educational program for individuals with autism.

We watched all the YouTube videos Chris and Sue posted before we started RPM; and after my son was fluent on the letter board, he spelled ‘Chris is a huge inspiration to me, gave me hope that I could eventually spell and share my thoughts’.

Without Chris and Sue being so willing to share their journey including their struggles and the severity of the autism they deal with daily, I believe my son wouldn’t have had the courage to try Soma RPM.

Nomination 3

I am nominating my son Christopher. He is now aged 19, has autism and epilepsy and many motor challenges and communicates non-verbally.

Chris has inspired me to do whatever I can to change perceptions of autism and intelligence. I found a teaching method called the Rapid Prompting Method in 2011, and using this Chris has been able to learn age appropriate educational topics and express his thoughts by pointing to a letter board.

He has surprised and shocked me with his intellect and deep thoughts.

Outwardly, Chris appears to not pay attention. He obsessively watches ‘baby’ DVDs and likes us to sing nursery rhymes but I now know he is highly intelligent and believe there are many others like him. It has not been an easy process and he still has many challenges, but he has always expressed that he would like to help others like him:

“…ALL THAT PEOPLE DESERVE IS TO BE ABLE TO SPEAK THEIR THOUGHTS. I HAVE NOT BEEN HANDED THIS RIGHT AND SOMETIMES THIS FIGHT ANGERS ME. I NEED TO HELP OTHERS AUTISTIC LIKE ME TO BE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE. I AM ABLE TO DO THIS BECAUSE I HAVE THE SUPPORT EACH DAY TO PRACTISE.”

When asked to give a message for parents considering RPM he pointed on the letter board ‘RPM HAS GIVEN ME A VOICE. YOU SHOULD GIVE IT A TRY’

With his permission I started to share video clips of his teaching sessions on my YouTube channel. Here is an example, RPM session on graphs.

Then people found and contacted us from all over the world asking for help. I arranged a UK RPM workshop and set up a parent Facebook learning group – Unlocking Voices Using RPM.

This now has over 5000 members and many parents thank us for being prepared to share our experience. Chris has already helped to change the lives of many children who were totally underestimated.

Get in touch about this story

If you’ve got any question for us about this story, or you’d like more information then please do get in touch.