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.
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 plan. It 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
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!