Sunday, October 6, 2013

October is Selective Mutism Awareness Month: How to Assess the Child Who Cannot Speak

 Here on my blog I have written several articles about the childhood anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism.  As an author at The Educator's Room, I have written even more articles about S.M. as an attempt to offer information, personal experience, hope and inspiration, and tips for parents and teachers.


October is Selective Awareness Month, and I have written an article that you may find helpful, even if you do not have a child or student with S.M.  When my own child was diagnosed three years ago, I had never heard of this disorder and was completely baffled.  Click the picture below to see the article and to check out this informative and professional online magazine that I am very proud to be a part of.

 As a parent to a child that does not talk out loud in school, and as a blogger, I am often asked the question, "How do I assess my student with S.M when a verbal response is required.?" Parents (including myself) are concerned that teachers will not get a valid analysis and assessment of what their child is capable of doing and of their cognitive skills (such as reading where a running record or IRI is used).  I put together a little list of suggestions that may help.  My child is to the point where he whispers to his teacher.  However, it is still difficult for her to get a complete picture of his abilities. Other children with S.M. do not whisper, mouth words, or even gesture. So, these general recommendations may not be appropriate for all children with S.M. 

Your current formal and informal assessments may need to be tweaked a bit to accommodate the child with Selective Mutism.

Helpful Hints for Assessing the Child With S.M
  • First and foremost, do not pressure or bribe the child to speak, whisper, gesture, or communicate in any way.  The most important thing a teacher can do is to build a loving and caring relationship with the child and to eliminate as much anxiety as possible.
  • As time goes on, the child will begin to trust you and may, on their own, begin to nod their head, gesture, and mouth words.  The next step would be whispering and then talking out loud. This can take years for the child to progress to even the whispering stage.  If the child will nod their head, point, or even mouth a word, you have gained their trust, made them feel less anxious, and you can begin to administer an assessment, depending on the nature of the activity.
  • Use picture cards as much as possible so that the child can point. For example, if you are assessing phonemic awareness, have the child point to the card that corresponds to the /a/ sound.  If assessing colors, instead of saying "What color is this?" say "Point to the card that is red." For numbers, say "Point to the card with the number 4."  For main idea of a story, have various cards with pictures or words if the child can read, and have them point to the one that shows the main idea, problem, main character, setting, etc.
  • For sequencing or retelling skills, have picture cards and have the child put them in order or sort the cards according to what happened/didn't happen in the story.  This is not as valuable as having the child verbally answer sequence questions or giving an oral retelling, but it is a start.
  • Invest in a recording device that will save MP3 files.  I have a Hear All Assessment Recorder that records beautifully and is great to use in the classroom with all students.  At first, my son would not let me record him reading at home or practicing sight words.  I didn't push the issue.  However, this year (he is in first grade), he enjoys recording his reading and can even use the recorder himself.  The benefit is that I can save the MP3 file to my computer and email the file to his teacher.  In turn, she can assess his fluency, whether his Guided Reading book is indeed a "good fit", and can share with the speech therapist who has my son on her "watch list".  If you are a parent and the teacher agrees, you can record your child reading benchmark or IRI texts at home.
  • Some have suggested video taping the child at home as he/she completes homework or school tasks, but my child was very reluctant to have me do so.  As with a recording, I would not share with your child that you will be sending it to their teacher. This could cause major anxiety for the child, who does not want others to hear his/her voice.
  • When my son was evaluated at The Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD, the doctor placed us in a room that had a two-way mirror.  She left my son and I alone for a period of time to explore and play with the games and toys that were scattered throughout the room.  In the room beside us, she was able to view/observe and videotape his speaking and interacting with me.  If, and this is a big if, you have access to a doctor's office, mental health facility, or school that has a two-way mirror, it is invaluable!

In our data-driven society, the pressure is on to assess and collect data points on all children.  I get that- I really do.  However, just like any child with a special need, the child with Selective Mutism will need accommodations to the instructional and assessment programs. A 504 plan or I.E.P. may be necessary to provide alternate forms of assessment.

These darling kids desperately want to break their silence. With love, patience, and an awareness of what S.M. is, we can help them to do so!

Please, I  invite you to share other tips, tricks, and suggestions that you may have for assessing the child with Selective Mutism! 

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  1. Just checking, in the beginning of your post you mention your son "does talk out loud at school". Did you mean to say he does not? I'm thinking so but just thought I would check. Many thanks and I look forward to reading more on your blog!

    1. Hi Mel, Yes I did mean does NOT talk out loud. Thanks for catching the error, and I'm off to fix it. :-) Lauren


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