In my ten years of teaching, I had heard of it and I had seen students go through my district with it. I had a misconceived conception of what selective mutism was; I thought it was a coping mechanism for a child to deal with some sort of trauma. Then, a little girl with selective mutism was placed in my classroom. I was baffled as to how I would teach her to read and determined to help her. I knew there was no trauma involved and I was concerned that it was a behavior or defiance issue. Then I read an article on selective mutism by Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum (click here) and my heart sank. Selective mutism is most likely the manifestation of extreme social anxiety disorder. Even worse, I had done some of the things the article said not to, like ask her to at least mouth the words when we echo read. You see selective mutes do not want any attention brought on themselves and by me asking her to mouth the words, I was further stressing her out. I immediately shared the article with all of her teachers and our principal. I urge you to read it even if you are not currently working with a child with selective mutism. I asked the speech teacher to create signs using Boardmaker to place on her desk (below are my versions of the signs). That way if she needs help, she can point to one of the signs and someone can help her.
Some other tips:
- Open communication with parents - The parents of my selective mute send me videos of her reading at home.
- Small group instruction
- Allow the student to spend time in the classroom with you, a family member, and no other students
- Meet with the child individually
- Allow non-verbal answers (such as pointing or a dry-erase board)
- Find the child a buddy or supportive friend in the class - My girls are wonderful and caring and will try to include my SM student in things even though she does not initiate play.
- push the child to talk
- draw unnecessary attention to the child
- make a huge deal out of it when the child does talk
It is going to be a slow process but I hope that with time and patience I can help her with her anxiety. My class this year is the perfect group of kind children to make this little girl feel safe.
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Here are some great points from the article. Click on the text to go to the entire article by Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum