Monday, June 11, 2012

Why Christopher Won't Talk- Part 2 Selective Mutism

Last month I blogged a little about Selective Mutism, a childhood anxiety disorder in which a child is mute in certain social situations, but talks comfortably in others. It is a very complex disorder that usually occurs before the age of five. These children have the ability to talk, but become so paralyzed with fear in some social situations ( usually at school), that they cannot talk or interact. You can read that post here.

My five year old will be starting kindergarten in late August at the same school where he attended pre-school  the last two years.  And, thankfully this is the school where I work and where his older brother attends.  Although Christopher has made tremendous progress with his S.M., he still will not talk out loud, but he does whisper to me and to his teachers.  So, I created something for him to use to communicate with his new teacher which hopefully will ease his anxiety just  a bit. Click on the picture to grab your copyI will explain below why these cards are helpful to these little sweeties who struggle to communicate in a school setting.

Selective Mutism is very rare and you may never have had a student with this disorder.  In twenty-three years of teaching, I never had.  However, you never know, and if you do have such a student or are the parent of a S. M. child, I hope you will find this useful.  My research comes from several sources:
  • From Dr. Dr. Shipon-Blum, a renowned expert in the field.  Her website is chock full of helpful information, handouts, and articles for parents and teachers.
  • From The Selective Mutism Group- find it here
  • From the book  Helping Your Child with Selective Mutism: Practical Steps to Overcome a Fear of Speaking byAngela E. McHolm, Charles E. Cunningham, Melanie K. Vanier
  • My experience as a mom with my son for the last five years

What does Selective Mutism look like?  Although there are many variances, some children, including my son exhibited these symptoms:
  •  Extreme shyness in and out of the home- even with friends and relatives.  Christopher would cling to me and hide his face when his grandparents would visit.  He would not talk to his cousins or other relatives.  The anxiety was worse when visiting others outside our home, at church, doctor appointments, etc..
  • A countenance marked by a look of fear, panic, seriousness and a frozen stare
  • No smiles
  • Little to no gesturing- no pointing, nodding of the head, raising hand, etc.
  • A mute, withdrawn, unhappy child that does not interact with others.  After two years, Christopher is doing parallel play at school instead of playing by himself
  • A happy, sometimes loud, boisterous, talkative, and social child in the home and with neighborhood friends

 The communication cards I made are sometimes part of a recommended treatment plan. I did not find cards, so I made my own.  I used mostly pictures because Christopher cannot read yet besides a few sight words.  I tried to pick the ones I thought he would use the most and did not want to overwhelm him. 

Tomorrow,  I will talk about what S.M sounds like, diagnoses and treatment, and how the classroom teacher can make accommodations.

Please realize that I am not an expert in this field, but have done the research and am the parent of a S. M. child.  To this day, I have only ever met one other parent who has a child with S.M.  As lonely as this disorder is for the children, so it is for the parents. My prayer is that my blogging will assist other parents and teachers who interact with these children.

More tomorrow!
Have a magnificent Monday


  1. Thank you so much for posting! I'm always looking for new DD7 was diagnosed with SM last November after a 6 month waiting period to see someone to diagnose her. I'll definitely be following your blog.

    1. Hi Nancy- Thanks so much for stopping by! I have a lot more articles about SM over at The Educators Room blog-

      This link will take you to all of my articles; just scroll down to see the SM ones.

      I wish you all the best with your daughter, but most of all I want to let you know that with lots of love, patience, and treatment, it gets better and better! :-) Lauren

  2. My 5 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with Selective Mutism. You're is a lonely disorder! It is so hard to make some people understand that this is a real issue and not simple shyness. She started Kindergarten this year as well, and she does not speak at school. She will occasionally speak to her teacher on the playground when no one is around. It is usually only 1-2 words in a whisper. Other than that she uses non verbal communication. There are times when she doesn't respond at all though. Thank you for these cards. I will absolutely print them and send them to school with her. I think they will be very helpful.

  3. Hi Teresa, I'm so glad you shared your story with me. The fact that your daughter is whispering is a huge step! My son has been whispering at school for three years. This year he will speak out loud outside the school when no one else is there. We're working on having him speak one word out loud to the teacher when he is alone with her. Stay strong and have faith! It's a long road, but with treatment and patience, there is a lot of hope! :-) Lauren


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