Top 10 selective mutism teacher advice.
I am always so grateful to see how our families story with selective mutism is helping other families. I noticed that I have a lot more teachers coming to the site looking for advice for teaching a student with selective mutism. It seem more and more common these days. Here is what I wished I had known and been able to tell teachers of how to interact with a selective mute child.
So here is my top 10 for teachers.
1: Believe the parents when they tell you the child has the condition. It was so important to have people who were helping, than those who were convinced it was something else.
2: Try many options. Try parallel play. Take a speaking child who does not care if the child does not speak and let them play side by side. Do not try to have them interact, that is too stressful for the selectively mute child. Patterning play side by side seemed to work well for my son.
3: Have lots of play dough or things for the child who is mute to interact with. My son played with play dough every day for hours. It made him happy. He was listening to everything going on around him, including teacher class lesson, but was not able to sit and do regular sit and be taught process. He would tell me what the teacher said that day when he came home. The teacher was always surprised to hear how much he had retained, since she thought he was just over in a corner playing with play dough and was not paying any attention to her.
4: Tell the child that you know they are answering you, just in their head. My son actually told me he answered every question, just in his head. So do not assume they are incapable of answering you or they are not paying attention.
5: Try having them write out or act or signal out what they want. My son would do anything you asked him to accept he was unable to speak in the school setting. So don’t give up assuming they can’t and won’t. There were certain words even with me he could not say, so he would spell the word instead of saying the word or use another word. We learned what his signal was for “I am uncomfortable”, for him it was that he would pull on his eye lid. This gave us, teacher included, a heads up and was able to take steps to lessen the stress of the situation for him. Be sure to tell them in advance, if there is going to be a change of routine. Don’t spring things on these children, they do not adapt well. Such as a change of teacher, sub, going to another room for testing. He would retreat even more, if changes were not told to him in advance. I would have the teacher every morning, go through the day, verbally with him. If the teacher was going to not be there, I would tell him in the car and outline the day. If he was told in advance he was fine, if not it was a terrible upsetting day for him.
6: Find out if and when the child will speak, my son could speak very well when in the house. So I would take the work each day from the teacher and do it with him verbally, so it would be reinforced.
7; Don’t assume the child is developmentally delayed or autistic. Actually, most are very to highly gifted. Remember Einstein did not speak until he was five. That statement kept me going for many years when he had the condition.
8; The condition can and will go away in most cases or at least diminish. Give it time, it is on their clock as to when this will change and not yours. It can take many years. So don’t think you are going to “cure” them.
9: The selectively mute child hears everything you say, so careful what you say and to whom you say it to. Do not talk in front of the child as though they are not there, they are not deaf.
10: Recommend the child be placed on a 504 plan/ IEP and be tested for gifted and explain to the parents the advantages and disadvantages. These children need more exposure, not less. This was not done for my son and I wish it had. We have one now for my older son with Tourette even in High school, he is an honor student, but still needs accommodation and services to support.
10/09 update: I want to add a clarification to being put on an 504 / IEP. This does not mean pull the selective mute child from classroom and put in a class with lower learning identified. This means making accommodations in a main stream classroom and higher. These students need more and faster, not less and slower. As soon as we got the gifted designation, we had him moved to classes for the gifted on subjects they offered it in and then he went back to a regular class for all other subjects. This gifted class worked well since it was a smaller class number and he was being taught at an appropriate level.
That was always a battle with the school, since they only taught one year above class level even in a gifted level. They indicated that the class curriculum strings were wider for the gifted program and thus covered the extent they needed to under the law. My point was teach to his level, not to the minimum you are required to do for gifted students. That is why I looking back I should have put him on an IEP/ 504. To force the school to educate him as needed, not as they wanted.