Selective Mutism(34 Posts)
Does anyone have any experience of helping a child with selective mutism?
My daughter is nearly 6 and in year one. We had parents evening tonight and her teacher is concerned that she doesn’t speak much - she has always been like this, not just since moving to year one. At home she is the most chatty bossy outgoing little thing ever but she shuts down when there is anyone else around.
Her teacher is worried now that it’s going to start holding her back with school work as a lot of it and assessments are done verbally - for example she is a really good reader and is ok reading to a teacher but she shuts doen and won’t speak when they try and see her comprehension and understand of the text. This is holding them back from moving her on because as far as they are aware she doesn’t understand what she has read.
She will answer a question if she can use one word but some days she needs lots of encouragement for that. She has some good friends at school but she doesn’t talk much to them either.
What should we do from here? I’ve always said she is selective mute but no one really listens.
My ds was selective mute all way through nursery and beginning of reception.
While at nursery, we were referred to SLT and class for children with social communication difficulty.
I think my ds's reception teacher had difficulty assessing him first, because he didn't say much. But somehow he was fine soon enough. The teacher was very experienced and extremely patient. We had daily communication via home-school link book.
I only know my ds's case, but I really couldn't do much as a parent. I just took any offer for help.
He is 9 now, and I cannot believes he used to be a selective mute.
What sort of things did they use to help him? I’m really glad it’s worked though and he has come out the other side
We didn’t have an issue assessment wise in reception - her teacher is the schools SENCO and he was amazing. He said she is very clever and above average for most areas it’s just communicating with others she struggles with.
I’m not sure what to think on her teacher this years approach - she says she started by being nice, has tried being grumpy but no approach works and she just shuts down.
I think I’m going to push for more help as it’s not fair on her. She’s such a happy little girl at home and I want her to be at school too.
In my area the speech and language service won’t see children such as your daughter. Referrals have to be made to CAMHS instead as it is viewed primarily as a mental health issue (anxiety). The problem with that is that a mute child would never get to be seen CAMHS as the criteria to be seen by them is so high and waiting lists are so long that the children with mutism have their referrals past over. Essentially these children are let down by cuts in both services. There are some speech therapists with a specialism in this area and they can be found privately.
That’s exactly my worry. She is well behaved, does her work and is quiet so I worry she will just be left to float along. It’s not fair - she clearly needs help it’s just how to access it.
You’re right. It’s not fair. All services in my area have been cut to the bone and in some cases completely removed. Children are suffering left, right and centre and the short sightedness of the cuts constantly astounds me.
My son was going into that direction when he was 4. Things that we did that helped:
1) we didn't answer questions for him. If someone asked if he wanted something we let him reply or let him go without, be it ice cream, cake or whatever took his fancy.
2) if he wanted us to get him a toy or a treat, we gave him the money and asked them to go and order it himself (this REALLY paid off)
3) controversial, but we explained that not replying when someone was talking to him was plain rude. We dealt with it as a behavioural issue.
One thing, do not asume he will grow out of it. There are another 2 children with selective mutism around me, which I have known since they were practically pre schoolers. One is 11 and the other one 14, they still do not answer when people talk to them or whisper to their parents the reply. I think this is quite a huge social disadvantage for them, as now they are no longer cute little kids, people are not as understanding as they were. So, if any offer of help comes your way, take it and do the best to make the advice work.
My ds was still in nursery, so nursery manager suggested exposure. We decided to send him 5 days a week for 6 hours. His manager became his keyworker and tried to introduce him to play with mainly older children, and did a lot of 1 to 1 with him.
At school, he didn't have any special arrangement or help, but I think he was mostly out of it by the time he was starting school.
I don't know what SLT did, since he was taken away with small number of children to have sessions.
Social communication one was singing, dancing, making craft, playing with small group of children etc., led by the specialist.
I think we were lucky that referral came quite quickly when nursery flagged it up.
I didn't really do anything in particular at home, but starting extra curricular activity may have made him more confident.
I disagree KarmaNoMore. It’s not my daughter being rude - she’s scared to talk - it’s not a choice she can make! It’s not like she decides ‘right I’m going to be rude and ignore that person’. I bet she would love to join in in a group situation and chat away like all her friends but she physically can’t.
My daughter would go without a treat even if she really wanted it if it meant she had to speak a sentence to a stranger. Sounds more like your son was shy rather than actually selective mute.
He did go out without a lot of stuff until he felt a bit more confident to start talking. He is still on the quiet side but it would have been much worse if we had just let him be.
I understand how controversial it is to deal with the issue as a behavioural issue, so we took care to avoid putting him in situations he found difficult too often.
But I insist, your child, as mine, has her reasons to feel the need to stay out of things. Do not wait for help to come your way, because it is more than likely that it will never be. Go and talk to the school and fight to get the support she needs or at least ask the school to point you in the direction of literature that can help you help her.
Irvineoneohone - thank you sounds like you had a good setting who know what they were dealing with and how to help.
My daughter does swimming lessons and Rainbows out of school but doesn’t talk to people there either...! Fingers crossed we can help her to move on.
I have experienced this as a teacher and I think the biggest thing is to not put pressure on the child to speak. As you say, it isn't a choice, it is a huge burden of anxiety. I tried not to comment too much at all, because even positive attention can be embarrassing for the child. I can't imagine that being strict or grumpy as a teacher could be any help whatsoever.
Has your child's teacher taken any advice from the SENCO or spoken to an educational psychologist? Do they have learning mentors in the school, or even access to anything like play therapy, or music therapy?
I think I'm your situation, I would print some info off about selective mutism, ask to meet with the teacher and together come up with a plan to support your daughter. To start with, the teacher will need to find other ways to assess her that don't involve a verbal response if she isn't able to give one.
My ds took all his nursery(2 years) and part of reception to be comfortably verbal outside home. It wasn't a quick fix, and very heartbreaking to see child suffer.
I really hope you and your dd gets help you need. Don't be afraid to be "that parent". Ask for all the help you can get.
We have a selective mute - he started with us in September.
We've just got some sentences from him this week but by playing! So observing what he likes and then instigating him and others in those games during playtime.
Just this week he's been laughing and asking for his turn whilst we collected leaves and threw them at the children.
We are lucky to have in house slt team who come in weekly for a day. They've told us the key is to reduce demand for speech - so avoid direct questioning and create opportunities for them to make requests spontaneously for things they enjoy.
I'd suggest to teacher that a ta spends some time daily with her 1:1. Gets toys out and let's her play. Then ta joins in with parallel play and relationship is built. When she laughs freely with staff member then is the time to create natural situations where she will benefit from talking.
It's a very sad but true situation re falling through the gaps
Thank you MrsKCastle. I was a bit shocked today when her teacher told me she was trying being strict and grumpy and telling her she has to speak. Goes against everything I’ve read. Her teacher last year was the schools SENCO and he was amazing. Never put pressure on her to speak and by the end of the year she did speak a little to him.
It’s half term next week so I think I’ll ask for a meeting when we are back with her teacher and the SENCO and go armed with some resources.
I don’t think she has sought any advice and this is the first time she has mentioned it to me despite me doing drop off and pick up every day since September!
With regards to assessment, her reception teacher had no issue without her speaking to him and he said she was above average for most areas apart from communication.
My DD was put on a SENCO plan at her nursery because of this. She was really chatty at home, I noticed that she was shy with other people but assumed she would grow out of it. Then I found out she had never once uttered a single word at nursery. They thought she couldn't speak. In the end they put a plan together and with lots of care and attention she slowly started to speak. I doubt she'll ever be a chatterbox, but she is quietly confident these days, but I am worried that she'll go backwards when she starts school next year.
I agree with a pp, don't be afraid to be "that parent", speak to the SENCO co-ord at the school, make a fuss if you need to, but make sure she's getting the help she needs.
I'm worried that the teacher has said she has tried being grumpy. That sounds like the worst possible way to deal with it imo. That should be addressed by the school. Not only do they need to try to teach your daughter the tools to speak up, but they need to teach her teacher how to get the best out of her. I'm pretty sure being grumpy isn't it.
Will DD speak to you in the school environment? Does she speak when she's with extended family?
Look for info on the SMIRA website and Maggie Johnson's work.
Arrange to meet with SENCo and class teacher together and agree on strategies to implement - getting "grumpy" and changing strategies won't help.
I'm not sure if my DS was officially termed selectively mute, but about 6 weeks into Year 1 it became obvious that he was barely speaking in class. Although noisy at home, he has always taken time to adapt to new situations and he has always been a very anxious child needing a lot of predictability/structure/routine. There were additional issues with one of his classmates, they seemed to have become quite co-dependent and he would only speak if this other child was somehow involved.
Fortunately his teacher picked this up at an early stage and spoke to us about it. I'm not sure exactly what they then did (DS gave us very limited info and we more or less left the school to get on with it initially as they seemed to have it in hand) but I think it involved about half a term or so of "small group work" with someone who may have been the SENCO or a TA working with the SENCO. Along with a few other children who had a range of different issues he would spend time in a multisensory room in the school. I think they did things like practising little conversations amongst themselves and they also had tea parties and a few other little fun things. The teacher called it "socialisation group". SLT and CAMHS were never mentioned to us and fortunately my DS did well with the small group work, became more talkative & gained confidence after a relatively short time. By the end of year 1 he was participating in the class assembly and last year (he was then year 4) he took quite a big speaking role in the school play so he still seems to be making progress year by year (although he remains an anxious child needing careful handling at times). I hope you are able to access some help for your daughter.
Apple23 - she will talk to me at school albeit a lot quieter than at home but if she thinks someone else is listening then she stops. She can read her reading book at school to the TA but stops if she is asked a question. Any answers she gives are yes or no in a whisper.
She’s never been big on talking to extended family - we see my mum at least twice a week and the most she really says will be ‘hello Grandma’ yes, no... she will talk away to me at grandmas house but stops the second extended family join in.
It’s her week to be line monitor at school (gets to be at the front at home time everyday) bu was s he hadn’t answered a number bond question so wasn’t allowed to today
Honestly at home she is the funniest craziest little girl and it makes me sad she is too anxious to be like that around anyone else.
I’m going to ask for a meeting after half term with the teacher and SENCO. Seems like there is plenty they can do to help her if it’s stoped being put down to ‘she’s quiet’.
I personally had this throughout my childhood and it was never picked up on. I managed to do well in school and passed with high marks. So try not to worry. your dc is getting help. I would try not to single her out in any way as that can make the anxiety worse. If she feels ok maybe she can be part of a small group when reading aloud instead of the whole class. Perhaps in can be just herself and a teacher.
Plummer, I am so sad that your child's teacher is being so unhelpful. I know from experience that having a child with selective mutism in your class can be hugely frustrating ( try assessing the English language level of a newlyy arrived Portuguese speaking selective mute !) but that is really no excuse for her behaviour, it's a bit like telling a child in a wheel chair that they need to get out of it and walk!
The best thing your child's teacher can do is be patient, offer situations where your daughter can communicate without speech eg phrasing questions so that they can be answered non verbally eg " And you are school dinner today little Plummer, is that right?". She should be positive about her, if other children comment that little Plummer doesn't speak then say something like " She does speak fine, but at the moment she doesn't want to speak at school. When she is ready to she will." Getting little Plummer in situations where she is relaxed and comfortable, like a small nurture group with a TA , so that little Plummer builds up confidence with the group and the TA is helpful. One of my elective mutes would read to a TA if he couldn't see her, so she would take him to an empty room and sit with her back to him! Another child liked using puppets, she started off making the noise of an animal and eventually gave it words.
there is good information online, you need to make an urgent appointment with the school SENCO and request that some research and training is done. It is a common problem, they need to be proactive for your daughter and for others in the school.
Just to reassure you, all the selective mute children I knew (including the Portuguese speaker, who it turned out knew quite a lot of English by the end of his first year) gained enough confidence to speak in school, they often had quite small but supportive friendship groups who were sometimes a bit too supportive "let F tell me in his own words what happened please!" , and were learning, enjoying school and happy.
Aw OP this has made me sad. This was me at school, exactly as you have described your little girl - I was chatty, confident etc at home but as soon as I was around unfamiliar people (even most extended family) or at school I just felt this crushing anxiety and couldn’t speak even though I wanted to. I also loved reading and was good at it, and even though I knew all the answers to the questions asked I never once put my hand up.
If I’d been forced to it would have made it worse, there were “group discussions” where everyone would take a turn to speak about a toy or book they liked and I would just sit there in silence wanting the ground to swallow me up - either that or I’d go home for lunch and tell my mum I didn’t feel well to get out of it.
I was always told I was quiet and “has the cat got your tongue?” which I hated.
What helped me greatly was (I didn’t know at the time obviously) my mum talking to the teacher and “pairing me up” with another lovely little girl who would sit next to me and chat away, we did projects together and became really close which in turn helped me with other people because I had someone to “bounce off” if that makes sense? We are still friends to this day (I’m almost 30!)
I also remember a conversation I had with my mum very vividly, I must have been about 6, she asked me why I didn’t like to speak in school and I said I didn’t know. She then came up with scenarios where she pretended to be a teacher or classmate and I had to respond the way I wanted to (but couldn’t in real life)
We did one where I had lost my pencil sharpener and couldn’t do my work. So I asked her for a sharpener and she let me borrow it and I said thank you and gave it back. It all sounds very simple but at that age it made me see that it’s the same situation just in a different setting and nothing “bad” was going to happen. She told me that if I spoke in school no one is going to say “omg Kite is speaking” or laugh at me, because it’s totally fine and normal! This made me laugh because I knew I could do it and I imagined how silly it would be to laugh at someone just for speaking.
It did take a good few years for me to feel comfortable and I was always “quieter” but I now realise that that is absolutely fine. I even went on to win a prize in secondary for my talk on a novel! Then went off to uni to do English which includes lots of talks and discussion!
I really hope you can help your little one, it can be so hard to know what to do in this situation. Especially when most kids are loud and chatty.
Sorry about the poor grammar/ spelling I’m using a new phone.
Feel free to PM me 😊
I used to be a ta and was asked to work with a boy who had sm.
I’d take him out as part of a friendship group, ch he was comfortable with. We’d play silly games, use the whiteboard where they’d just shout out an answer as part of a group.
He could put his hand up to answer the register or say yes, whatever suited.
I was lent a book on this, which recommended a talking map. A piece of paper folded in half, he drew all the places where he would talk on one side, and all the places where he didn’t want to on the the other. We did talk about having people near him on the talking side made a difference to him. Slowly that year he built up he’s talking areas, no pressure. Lovely to see.
I will post properly soon but for an actual diagnosed child with selective mutism the worst thing you can do is what Karma above suggested and pressurise them.
This isn't just shy children, its a proper condition and usually the child wants to talk but physically can't get the words out rather than being shy.
My girl was called rude and it demolished her self esteem.
Thank you for all your replies I feel much less alone now. It’s so difficult knowing how I can help her when the child they describe isn’t the one I have any experience with!
I spoke with her teacher this morning to request a meeting with her and the SENCO. Also spoke to her headteacher at the end of the day who said they had had a meeting and were talking about my daughter yesterday - I’m a bit miffed it’s taken them this long. The SENCO said he didn’t have a huge issue last year and that my daughter warmed up to him and was able to eventually answer some questions. He’s suggested to her teacher to stop trying to make her talk for now and for any assessments she just needs to watch how she is with the other children. He used to pretend he wasn’t listening and observe her with her two best friends. She has started talking to them so that’s a bit of a breakthrough. I’ve also printed some information off and gave it to the headteacher to give to her teacher.
Half term now so I have my happy girl for a week. It makes me sad there is nothing I can do but I will fight for all the help she needs.
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