Opening up Rowan’s world

Rowan Esser uses a simple plastic stencil board and a pen to communicate

An Enniskillen family’s

quest to help their autistic son communicate


Trish Esser remembers exactly when her son, Rowan, stopped speaking. And she remembers exactly when his world opened up again.

The Enniskillen mom and her husband were doing what every family does, making a living and raising kids. Rowan was a typical happy nine-month old baby, saying a few words like mamma and dadda. It was time for his immunizations including some extra shots. It was after one round of shots that she and her husband became alarmed.

“It was less than a week that he went from happy and smiley to lethargic and… he had no words.”

Trish Esser works on a lesson everyday with her son Rowan
Trish Esser works on a lesson everyday with her son Rowan

Trish realized how bad the situation was when the family headed for camping and she turned to the back seat to get baby Rowan’s attention. “Rowan would not answer. He wouldn’t look at me. He might as well have been deaf.”

The couple cried the entire weekend.

Esser took her young son to the pediatrician, but he wanted to give the baby time to return to his smiley self. But the Essers couldn’t wait. “Dean and I were feeling ‘there is something really wrong.’”

Rowan saw a specialist who gave them the news, their son was autistic. Autism affects about 1 in 150 children in Ontario. Researchers are still trying to figure out what causes it.

The family began trying to help Rowan, everything from the traditional therapy for autistic children Intensive Behavioural Intervention, to using pictures on an iPod to communicate what he needed. It worked for a while but it was difficult. “Often he would just pull us to what he wanted or bring it to us,” says Esser.

Then she heard about Rapid Prompting Method and enrolled in a four-day retreat with Rowan to learn how to use the plastic stencil and pencil to communicate. “It was a mind-blowing emotional thing,” she says, remembering how her 10 year-old picked up the concept quickly and started spelling out words using the pencil tip. It opened up a whole new world for Rowan and the Essers.  “It is crazy how simple it was,” she says adding even his education assistant at school was shocked to see how well Rowan could communicate using the board and pencil. “this changed my son’s life. It changed our life.”

Rowan, just before he developed autism
Rowan, just before he developed autism

Esser has learned things about the 10-year-old she didn’t know before. “He wants to be a fireman. I don’t think you have to do a lot of talking to be a fireman. It’s neat to see his likes and dislikes… I just found out his favourite colour is orange. I thought it was blue. I bought him ‘blue’ everything.”

And it’s opened her eyes to what it is like to be autistic.

Rowan once told her “to some people I’m stupid on the outside, but I’m smart on the inside.”

While the experience has been exhilarating, Esser says it has been difficult too, knowing for all that time Rowan could have been sharing his thoughts.

Now, she is reaching out to other parents to teach them the RPM method, hoping to make breakthroughs for them, too.

She says it is exciting to see the world open up for others. “This has changed me a lot. He’s going to be able to communicate.”

If you’d like to talk to Esser you can reach her at [email protected].