Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Selective Mutism: Breaking the Silence

Yesterday I wrote about what Selective Mutism looks like.  Today I will give an overview of what S.M. sounds like, diagnoses and treatment plans.  I strongly believe that it is important that all professionals that work and interact with a S. M. child understand this complex disorder.  From the outside, it may appear that these children are just "overly" shy, obstinate, manipulative, or have control issues. 

Others may be tempted to accuse parents of coddling or enabling their children. When I am told that my child does not talk because of control issues or because they are just being stubborn, I always reply with this:  Do you really believe that a small child would choose to go all day- 8 hours- and not talk or laugh out loud- not even to their peers?  Would any child really choose to not want to laugh and talk to their friends on the playground?  Would any child muster up every bit of strength they have to not cry when they get hurt or feel sick?

So, it's important that we all understand this, as parents, teachers, specialists, friends, and neighbors.  Being educated on S.M. will prevent thoughtless comments that my son has received such as "What's the matter, can't you talk?"

Can you tell that I'm passionate about this?  Absolutely!

What Does Selective Mutism Sound Like?
There are varying degrees of the severity from child to child.  With my own child there was some inconsistency.  Such as , he would talk at the doctor's office if the appointment was for somebody else.  If it was for him, he was mute.
  • Some children may not speak at all- no sounds- no laughing or crying.  They may cover their mouths to prevent even a giggle from escaping.
  • Others may mouth or whisper to teachers or classmates, or other peers. 
  • Some may talk when out of ear-shot of teachers.  My son has progressed to the point where he might talk once we walk out of the door at the end of the day.  He might . Again, there is no consistency.  However, what is consistent is in the morning, as soon as I open the car door,- boom!-  he is mute.  He now will whisper to me as we walk across the parking lot and into the school.  Why the difference from the beginning to the end of the day?  My belief is that this is because his anxiety is so very intense at the beginning of the day as he is anticipating his school day.  He knows that he will not be able to be himself- a jovial, outgoing child who loves to sing at the top of his lungs.
  • Some may only whisper to other children but not to the teacher.
 The big question is "Why?"
  In a nutshell, the answer is because these kids are petrified!  S.M. is an anxiety disorder.  When my son was first diagnosed, his therapist compared it to a phobia.  If I have a phobia to spiders, I cannot make myself go near one or touch one overnight!

How can teachers help?
I planned to write more about this, but this post is getting too long!
Here's some helpful hints:
  • Do not demand that the child speak. Do not bribe them with rewards or threaten with punishments because both of these can make the anxiety worse.
  • Interact with them as much as possible, just as you would any other child
  • Don't exclude them just because you know they won't reply.  You can ask them a question, but the answer may come in an alternate form ( e.g. writing, drawing, nodding head, pointing, mouthing, whispering).
  • Many S.M. kids like to sit in the back of the classroom so as not to draw attention to themselves.  Many of these children do not like to be in the spotlight
  • Realize that their silence is nothing personal against you! ( this can be so hard to accept!)  For some reason they have associated school with anxiety and fear.  In turn, they transfer this fear to you.  During his first year of preschool, my child would come home and tell me how much he loved his teacher, but he never did even whisper to her and two years later, he still won't!
  • Realize that they may never participate in Show-n-Tell.  They may show, but never tell about it!
  • Field trips can be terrifying!  My husband attended a trip as a chaperone and my son did not talk to his father the whole day!
  • Hold them accountable to behavioral and academic criteria.  The tricky part is differentiating and making accommodations.  How do you assess alphabet knowledge or complete a running record on a child who will not speak?  YIKES!  This is a whole post in itself!
  • Some children with S.M. have an IEP or 504 plan, others do not.
  • If the child is in treatment with a therapist or psychologist, they will have a behavioral treatment planIt is important that parents communicate this with you.  My son's plan had very specific goals.  I had to ask the teacher for her cooperation, as one of the suggestions was for my son and I to go into his classroom at the end of the day when everyone was gone
 Whew!  This was a long one!

My hope is that this was/is helpful to you!  These sweet little ones desperately want to be themselves!  Many of these children speak, yell, sing, and talk nonstop at home or in the backyard with neighborhood friends.  We need to love on them while they are under our charge and help them break their silence!

Have a blessed Wednesday! 


14 comments:

  1. Wow, I wish I had known about this last year. My teaching partner had a child that you could have been describing!

    New follower!

    ✪Crystal✪
    Strive to Sparkle

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  2. Thanks for sharing, Crystal! I talked with a parent who came to visit our school. Her daughter has S.M. I was amazed at the similarities to my own son. Blogging about this has opened up opportunities for networking for me. I have only ever met that one parent who had a S.M. child. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  3. I've never met a child with selective mutism but I appreciate you sharing your story and putting this information out. Now I will have some resources if I ever do have a child like this in class!

    ❤- Stephanie
    Falling Into First

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  4. Wow ... I'm impressed :) very informative and perfect for teachers/assistants who may have never experienced this affliction

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  5. More more more, please I work with a child with SM and would love any bit of information you can give me, made some progress but also the usual 2 steps forward 3 steps backwards senario just started reading your blog, any further websites, books or digital media appreciated. :)

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  6. More more more, please I work with a child with SM and would love any bit of information you can give me, made some progress but also the usual 2 steps forward 3 steps backwards senario just started reading your blog, any further websites, books or digital media appreciated. :)

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  7. Thanks for stopping by! Check out this website. It's the first one I found after my son was diagnosed. http://www.selectivemutismcenter.org/home/home
    Lauren

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  8. I'm so glad I found your blog. My son is currently undiagnosed, but we're going through the evaluation process at the moment. I am 110% sure he has SM. It's been a difficult journey thus far, but I'm hoping the psychologist we are seeing can properly diagnose him so we can more forward with this journey.

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  9. I'm so glad I found your blog. My son is currently undiagnosed, but we're going through the evaluation process at the moment. I am 110% sure he has SM. It's been a difficult journey thus far, but I'm hoping the psychologist we are seeing can properly diagnose him so we can more forward with this journey.

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  10. Hi! Thank you for stopping by! I absolutely understand your journey and am still on it myself as my son adjusts to a new school. I hope you get a diagnosis soon and are able to find a therapist who specializes in SM. Have you seen this website?
    http://www.selectivemutismcenter.org/home/home

    It has a wealth of resources and information. I also blog here about SM and will have more articles coming in the next few months.
    http://theeducatorsroom.com/2013/06/stone-silent-chipping-away-at-the-selective-mutism-barrier/

    I wish you all the best! Lauren

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  11. Thank you so much for the wonderful information you are sharing! We have a student at our school that we believe has S.M. The whole matter is complicated because he is an English Language learner and no one wants to try to tease it out.
    But in the meantime, we have to assess this little guy to figure out which reading group he can join. PLEASE tell me you have suggestions for assessing and doing running records with a child who won't say a word to us! Some are suggesting he go into the lowest group and I know this is not a good idea. Help!

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  12. Hi Nikki- Thanks so much for stopping by! You do have a complicated situation, but I think it would be important to find out if this little guy is not talking because of S.M. or is shy and reluctant to talk because he is an ELL student. If it is S.M. then dealing with the anxiety first and making him feel comfortable will be the first step. My son is in 1st grade and is now to the point where he will whisper loud enough for the teachers to hear him, but that took several years to reach that point. It may help to have someone who speaks his native language, if possible, to work with him 1-1 to see if you can get him to at least nod his head and point as a way to respond. You could, for now, assess him using a read-aloud of a text at grade level and ask him questions to get his listening comprehension level. Other suggestions I have is to have the parents ask him to read at home and record it -either audio or video. Then you could take a RR on his reading. I have some other ideas- feel free to email me at teachermomof3@comcast.net. Hang in there! The most important thing is to make him feel as relaxed as possible and have him work in small groups and 1-1 when possible. :-) Lauren

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! Since he speaks in both languages outside of school, we do not believe this is caused by language, but it most likely is complicated by it. Our Spanish speaking teachers have tried to work with him 1-1 without much progress:(
      I love the audio/video idea!! I also asked our SPED teacher about a picture board for communication in the meantime. Thanks so much for your help! I'll be in touch:)

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  13. Great idea about the pictures! If he points, nods his head, or gestures in any way, that is a huge step for a SM kid! Also, check out this website for information on S.M.
    http://www.selectivemutismcenter.org/home/home
    Yes, do keep in touch! :-) Lauren

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