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.
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