FEELING STRESSED

TEACHING V-8 MOMENTS

BEHAVIOR 101

Selective Mutism Tips

Through the years I have had a few students with selective mutism. When I met my first student with S.M., I thought she was just very shy. For this post, I will call her Sally but that is not her real name. But, after a couple of weeks of school, it was clear that there was more going on that a case of shyness. That is when I asked for a meeting with Sally's parents to get their insight into what was happening. Her parents told me that she would only talk to the people in her immediate family and one neighbor. She wouldn't even speak to her grandparents or cousins. After observations and meetings with her pediatrician, counselor, speech pathologist, she was officially diagnosed as having selective mutism.
Luckily, Sally's parents were very open to ideas and happy to try anything that we suggested. Sally's mom would send me something to school on a weekly basis. Sometimes it was a bag of cookies that Sally and her mom had baked together. Other times Sally's mom let her pick out a packet of stickers to donate to our class. Sally's job was to hand the item(s) to me. We set the following goals:

1st: Hand the item to the teacher without mom standing beside her. I said thank you but did not ask her any questions about the item.

2nd: Hand the item to the teacher while looking at the teacher. I said thank you but did not ask her any questions about the item.

3rd: Hand the item to the teacher and say you're welcome. I said thank you but did not ask her any questions about the item.

4th: Hand the item to the teacher while looking at the teacher and say you're welcome. I said thank you but did not ask her any questions about the item.

5th: Hand the item to the teacher while looking at the teacher and say you're welcome. Answer teacher's question with one word. I said thank you and then asked her a question that could be answered with one word - usually a yes/no question.

6th: Hand the item to the teacher while looking at the teacher and say you're welcome. Answer teacher's question with 2 or more words. I said thank you and then asked her a question that required a few more details.
Once again, Sally's parents provided extra support to help her build relationships with her classmates. Sally and her mom loved to bake. Usually students only brought treats for their birthday. I gave her mom permission to send in treats more frequently. When Sally passed out the treats to her classmates, she was concentrating on the actual process of passing out, and less about her anxiety about communicating with her classmates. We set goals for this too.

1st: Pass out treats without teacher support.

2nd: Pass out treat and make eye contact with classmates.

3rd: Pass out treat, make eye contact with classmates, and smile when student says thank you.

4th: Pass out treat, make eye contact with classmates, and say you're welcome when classmate says thank you.
Sally received weekly support from our school counselor. Our counselor let Sally choose a buddy come with her. She and the buddy played games in the counselor's office. In the beginning, Sally would only smile and shake her head for yes or no. But, over time she slowly began to whisper to the counselor and her buddy. I think it helped that there was only one buddy and they were in a quiet office so she felt more comfortable. By the end of the year, she was able to invite 3 buddies to go with her. As you can imagine she became very popular because she got to pick her buddy(ies). Word quickly spread that if Sally chose you, you got to go play games. Students wanted to sit by her at lunch and invited her to play games with them at recess.
There are different reasons why a student may have S.M. Sometimes it is an anxiety issue. Click HERE to read more about this topic.


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8 comments

OkinawanGirl Lisa said...

Michelle,

I found your blog from Paul's recent post in the TpTs sellers forum.

I love your step by step goals for dealing with children with SM. I've never encountered SM but feel more informed about it after reading your post.

Thank you for sharing! I'm now following you.

Best wishes,

Lisa
One, Two, Three: Math Time

Suzanne said...

Has a mom with a daughter with selective mutism and a teacher, I was so happy to read this post. So many teachers tried to "cure" my daughter when what we needed was a strategy to help reduce the anxiety she was feeling. I wish she had had you as a teacher!!!

Becky said...

Thank you for sharing tips about Selective Mutism and raising awareness about it. We thought our son was very shy until his Kindergarten teacher asked us if we'd ever heard about SM. I studied up on it and it fit everything about how our son acted. Once we recognized what he struggled with, he started to improve. Now, a year later, his teacher said that if she didn't know about his difficutlies last year, she wouldn't have known!

Teacher Mom of 3 said...

As a mother to a 6 yr old with S.M., I appreciated your blog post and thank you for raising awareness about this disorder. The goals you listed are excellent for desensitizing and you are to be applauded for your willingness to work so hard with your student! Lauren

Janet E said...

I'm happy to see blog posts like yours! My daughter suffered from severe SM for years. She was completely silent at school all the way through 5th grade. She did not start improving until middle school with the help of therapy and meds. It was so difficult hearing everyone's advice on how to "cure" her by just forcing her to talk.

Kelly said...

I currently have a kindergarten girl who has SM. It is Christmas break and she STILL has not spoken!! I've tried asking her to whisper, talk away from the others, begged, pleaded, NOTHING. I will take advice from anyone! :)

Becky said...

Kelly, I would say that begging your daughter to talk will just increase her anxiety and make it harder to talk. For us, when we backed off and acknowledge our son's "problem", he did much better. Where/when will she talk? Our son would only talk to his mom/dad/siblings and grandparents. At school, his teacher gave him a sign to put on his desk when he needed to use the bathroom because he was unable to ask to go. The first time he went up with his peers for a performance I almost cried. He usually just sat with the teacher.

Rebekah said...

I had selective mutism as a child and it was definitely caused by anxiety! It very slowly got better through the years. I think that if my parents and teachers had known more about it back then, it would have improved many years earlier. It also would have been a great heads up that I just might experience some anxiety as an adult, too. :) (Funny enough, everywhere outside of school I was confident, chatty, and seemed like any other kid.) And no, pressuring me to talk did NOT work.

I'm 25 now and would say I've turned out pretty well - I graduated from university and have a job that involves daily interactions with strangers, working with kids, and occasionally giving presentations. Selective mutism definitely had a very negative effect on me during my school years, however, and I wish I'd developed the confidence to overcome it long before late high school and university. I really don't know what my parents and teachers could have done differently.

I would recommend reading "The Highly Sensitive Persom" or "The Highly Sensitive Child" by Elaine Aron to see if your child might be highly sensitive - for me, I really believe this was part of the picture of why I was susceptible to developing anxiety/ selective mutism especially in a very overwhelming environment like school.