Sunday, February 23, 2014

More Literacy Tips for the Child with Selective Mutism

If you are a parent or a teacher of a child with Selective Mutism, you know all too well about the challenges these students face in the classroom. Last time, I offered tips for reading instruction for the child who cannot speak out loud.  Today, I want to share about the importance of getting parents involved in the learning process, both at school and at home.



First, it must be stated that many children with S.M. have average to above average intelligence.  From my research and experience, these children also have a natural affinity for music and the arts.  Moreover, because they do not speak or have limited speaking ability, they usually compensate by honing their auditory skills in a classroom environment.  While this is usually a good thing, it also means that S.M. children have limited to no opportunities for speaking in school.  This can, of course, have negative effects on learning, especially in regards to literacy.  We know as professionals that learning is a social, interactive process.  Brain research teaches us that talking about our learning helps to learn efficiently, helps our memory, and exposes us to new and varied ideas.  

The suggestions that I have to share with you are good, solid recommendations for all parents to use at home.  For the child with S.M. any talking or discussing the parents can encourage at home will assist them with processing and solidifying their thinking and learning.
1.  Send home books for students to read aloud to their parents, if you do not already do so.  Fluency issues can arise even with strong readers because they do not have an opportunity to read aloud (to a friend, to the teacher) at school.  My own son who reads above grade level reads too fast and doesn't stop to fix mistakes.  Except for at home, he never reads out loud.  He is still at the developmental age where he needs to read softly, whisper read, and read out loud occasionally to decode and to think about his reading.

2. Reading aloud also helps children to work on decoding strategies such as getting their mouth ready for the first sound, flipping the vowel sound, and stretching out a word when encoding during writing.  It would be helpful to offer specific strategies for students to work on at home and provide parents helpful hints. Examples are finding and saying the little word in the big word, reading sentences the child has written, to name a few.

3.  In addition, students can work on retelling a book to their parent or an older sibling. Encourage the child to discuss plot elements, connections, questions they have during reading, and other comprehension strategies.

4.  Keep parents informed on what phonics skills you are covering in class.  Throughout the week, parents can have their children read words out loud for the skill or look for words with the target phonics skill as they are reading each night.

5.  Encourage parents to have their child read out loud any writing that students bring home.  For example, when my son was in school, he usually brought home a "Squiggle" writing and a free write each week.  I would always have him read his writing to me as we were going through his take-home folder.

6.  Invite parents into the classroom to volunteer, if their schedule permits.  Not only will mom or dad's presence in the classroom provide a feeling of security for the child, but it will also provide an opportunity for the parent to work with the child.

In short, students need an opportunity to read aloud, think aloud, and process their thinking out loud at home, in the place where they feel the safest and most comfortable.  I would urge teachers to caution parents not to "drill" and barrage their child with too many questions and requests to read out loud.  Just five minutes of reading out loud for a young primary student (grades kindergarten-first grades) should be a good start.  Even having a parent read aloud and then asking questions can prompt a natural discussion about the story that gives the child practice discussing their comprehension and thinking.

For my child, he did not like to talk about his day immediately after getting home in the afternoon.  He needed down time, time to run around outside, talk with his older brother, or just relax by himself playing with Legos, or yes, even a video game. If he was in a particularly agitated mood, frustrated, or upset, I did all I could to help him verbalize how and what he was feeling and how he could cope both at school and at home.  Together, we read books about various emotions, I helped him with relaxation with breathing and visualization, and encouraged him to write and draw in a journal.  Sometimes he would write me letters and other times, I would find him writing in his journal before bed.  As for the books, the Mr. Men series is a big hit in our house, such as the title Mr. Worry.  Click the picture below to see the listing on Amazon.  These are all suggestions that you can share with parents.

  It is very important that children with S.M. have opportunities to express their emotions at the end of the day that they have bottled up inside.  Many children with S.M. will not smile, laugh, cry, or shed a single tear (even when hurt) during the school day, let alone express feelings of frustration, anger, or disappointment.

Many researchers and doctors that study and treat children with Selective Mutism, emphasize that any treatment plan should use a team approach.  Teachers, counselors, the pediatrician, faculty and staff, and parents and other family members must work together to support and encourage the child who struggles to be heard.

Credits:  KG Fonts, My Cute Graphics, and Ashley Hughes

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  1. My son is 6. He has been displaying symptoms of SM for a number of years now. It is only recently that we actually heard of SM and that this could be what he suffers from. I am having great difficulty with his teachers, who don't seem to understand and label him as difficult and uncooperative. There are good days, when he can do the tasks they ask of him. There are others where they must ask him repeatedly and he is unable to do it, he freezes up and just sits there. What can I recommend to them to work with him in those situations?

  2. My son is 6 years old and in senior kindergarten. He has been displaying symptoms of SM for a number of years now. It is only in recent weeks that we heard of SM and this may very well be what he suffers from. We are having problems with his teachers who are labeling him as difficult and uncooperative. He has good days were he can do the tasks that they ask him to do with out any anxiety. However, there are times when they ask him to do something verbal or nonverbal and he freezes up and just sits there. What can I suggest to the teachers to work with him through these moments?

  3. Hi! It is common for teachers to not be aware of S.M. and to think that the child is stubborn, willful, and even manipulative. I am so sorry that you are going through this and know first hand what this struggle is like. The first thing that I would suggest is to get a diagnosis for your son. We started with my son's pediatrician who then referred us to a psychologist who then diagnosed him. Then, we met with the teachers and I informed the entire school staff on what SM is. Check out this website for a wealth of information about SM and information you can share with his teachers. I wish all the best! Lauren


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