Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer and the Child With Selective Mutism: 10 Tips for Parents~ Part 2

Last time, I shared with you five tips for helping the child with Selective Mutism make the most of summer vacation.  Here is the introduction to that post; you can find the complete blog post by clicking here.

For the child with Selective Mutism, summer can have both positive and negative implications.  For some children, making the transition from the structure and familiarity of the school setting can be upsetting and cause even more anxiety. This is especially so if the child will attend a daycare or summer camp setting while mom and dad work.  For others, like my son, he was relieved that he could stay home and not have to face his fear of school and talking on a daily basis.  In either case, summer is an opportune time to work on pragmatic communication skills, to assist the child with stress-relief techniques, and to work on social and school phobia issues.

While I am no expert in Selective Mutism, I do have a seven year old son that was diagnosed with S.M. at the age of three.  I have researched this topic extensively and partnered with my child's psychologist, therapist, counselor, and teachers over the last 4.5 years. Although children with S.M. can be described as being on a spectrum, I have a few general tips to share that you may find helpful as we enter the summer vacation season here in the U.S.

Tips for Making the Most of Summer

6.  Vacation plans that involve traveling away from home can be stressful for the S.M. child.  Notice the sober expression on the little one's face in the above picture?  Before our first trip to the lake, I prepared my little one with exciting anticipation of all the fun things we would do- together with his father and me, with his brother, cousins, and grandparents.  I was sure to let him know the sleeping arrangements, we looked on the map, and read about our destination.  I made no mention of an expectation for him to talk and did not force him to do any activity (like the water slide at the water park) that he was uncomfortable with trying.  As the week wore on, he began to relax, experiment with new things at his own pace, and feel more comfortable.

7.  Summer camps are usually wildly popular with most kids, but not so for many with S.M.  For years, I have been trying to get my now 7 year old to try a day camp program with his older brother, to attend an art or music camp, or basketball camp. These are all activities that he is interested in, but is reluctant to try because he knows he will have to talk and will be away from his comfort zone for hours at a time.  So this year, he asked if he could take swimming lessons where I can watch from the sidelines, there will be a small amount of other children, and it only lasts for 50 minutes.  It's progress, and baby steps is the key to success!

8. Other summer activities like Bible School, seeing old school friends at the local pool, at the park, etc. can cause anxiety.

Picture Courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.Net

I would suggest never forcing, coaxing, or dangling a carrot with rewards or bribes for the child to attend, to talk, or to become actively involved.  Just getting the child to a new destination where there will be many children will be success.  If the child appears anxious, try deep breathing exercises, go for a walk, distract the child with conversation, or ask them what they would like to do later that day.

9.  Encourage children to play- to have lots of free and unstructured time for them to play, explore, learn social skills and cues, and to practice these in a nonthreatening environment where they feel comfortable. This may be at home, at the park, or at a relative's house.  Limit the time the child is engaged in solitary play (like video games) and instead carve out time for board games, creative play (Legos, Barbies, reading, etc.), backyard play with parents, siblings, friends, and relatives.

10.  Prepare for the end of summer and the return to school, especially if your child is attending a public or a private school.  It is here that most children with S.M. feel the most anxiety.  You can read a post I wrote last year about the "Back to School Blues" and how to help the child with Selective Mutism prepare for a new school year here.

Picture Courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.Net

With much love, patience, encouragement, and faith, your child will be able to make the most of the summer and will bloom in his own time.

Do you have more tips to share what has worked for your child?  Please share in comments section!

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