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.

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  1. September 9, 2008 at 4:02 pm | #1

    Check out “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection” by John Cacioppo & William Patrick (amazon.com). Authors back with solid research that it’s the lack of social connection, not language usage, that leads to the inability for those with selective mutism to self-regulate. As Marian Moldan, LCSW-R,commented: as a result, this population’s lack of language usage does not provide opportunities to form social connections. This leads to social isolation and contributes greatly to their inability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors.

  2. Marian Moldan, LCSW-R
    November 12, 2008 at 4:29 pm | #2

    Kate,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to post the quote I gave to Drs. Cacioppo & Patrick for their groundbreaking work on “Loneliness”. As a formerly selective mute and a specialist who treats selectively mute children, I think these authors realize the effects that not being able to speak may have on humans. All the best, MBM

    • Laurie
      June 4, 2009 at 3:12 pm | #3

      MBM,
      I would like you thoughts on whether an IEP or 504 is best for SM 12-year old. She never needed one before because the school accommodated with the few things she needed (classmates she knew and felt comfortable with). Also, do you know of a SM support group in the state of Virginia?

      • Karen
        February 4, 2010 at 10:39 pm | #4

        I have a child with SM. A 504 helped greatly. It helped the teacher who was up in arms because she did not know how to grade my daughter on many assignments, and it helped with the stress level of my child who knew the teacher would not call on her to answer questions in front of the class. We are in Va also.

  3. Karen
    January 12, 2009 at 6:37 pm | #5

    Hello

    I need some help, i feel as if i am alone out here. my twin daughter stopped speaking ( completely) when she was 6,the 1st year she was silent (everywhere), then she mouthed words,she is now 9 and she whispers loud enough for everyone to hear her, has this ever happened to anyone before? will i ever hear her voice out loud again? i read all about selective mutism, she was diagnosed with it, but her story seems different then all i have read.

    A parent of a beautiful girl

    • November 13, 2010 at 3:20 am | #6

      Hi there

      it is slow progress but with treatment and that she will get there. Check out my blog I am writing down what I find that helps.. my experience etc..

      Kerry

  4. JJ Heath Robinson
    January 20, 2009 at 4:00 pm | #7

    Some one wrote in as having “formerly” had selective mutism. I would love to hear about how you were assessed in school (high school) and, did it affect your ability to write? (assignments requiring interpretive / inference writing)

  5. Larisa
    February 3, 2009 at 2:10 am | #8

    My beautiful daughter was diagnosed with selective mutism at age 5. It was heartbreaking. She had been a very active, outgoing, talkative toddler. I thought it was just a phase in the beginning-she never grew out of it. After taking her to a therapist and then to a psychiatrist who deals with anxiety, I have found that Zoloft has helped her. I was always so opposed to medication for children, but I have changed my story. It has changed her life. She is still very “shy”, and a little different than her peers, but she has a relatively “normal” life now. She has friends and speaks to kids at school. She has come a long way, and is happy. I can’t ask for more.

  6. sherry
    May 25, 2009 at 4:03 am | #9

    need help. my daughter is in first grade and diganosed 2 years ago. now they are talking about retaining her. she is getting terrible grades, but when she comes home she does her homework and everyting very quickly and makes no mistakes. i have her on a iep and they are not getting it done i am thinking about home schooling. if i let them retain her she will be bored ..she has made some progress but, theywant things done on there time lines not my daughter. any advice will help..thank yousherry

    • Melissa C.
      October 21, 2012 at 8:58 pm | #10

      I have my daughter (4) in private/ home school program where she is with two other children with her in class. Home schooling is big in our area, but I didn’t want to have her home everyday with me lacking social interaction, so this was the best bet for us. I would check into private school or other home schooled programs that are in groups instead of just staying home with her all the time.

    • sue
      February 9, 2013 at 2:58 am | #11

      Do some research on sm and share it with your teachers. I do not believe retaining her is best at this time. Have you tried telephone therapy? I read an article on it and it seems to work very well. I read another article that suggests having the child sit on the edges of the classroom, to include them but not demand verbal responses, play with play dough as the sit and listen. Allow the parents to help with getting the school work done. We have just gotten a child in our school with this disorder and since telephone therapy seems to work I was wondering if I put a screen between he and me, and using something like can phones if the child would be more motivated to talk with me if he could not see me or anyone else.

  7. Jennifer Meneses
    November 14, 2009 at 10:26 pm | #12

    Hi. I am a single parent of a SM child. My daughter is 5 yrs and in kindergarten. She is currently on 5mg of Prozac for about a month now. I have seen some improvements as far as confidence and more outgoing socially but nothing academically. She is falling below average in school because she can not verbally answer certain skill based that is required for kindergarten. I am also moving to Florida, her father and I have decided to raise her together and help her through this. (She is excited about living with dad) I am concerned because she is falling behind in school but at home she is very bright and articulate. I am trying to find other Florida parents whose children are in public school and how they are dealing academically. Any information would be helpful.

  8. Lali
    February 25, 2010 at 1:03 am | #13

    I am a Sp. Ed. Teacher. A first grader has enrolled in my school. who seems to have SM. I heard that he said few words to couple of people in the office, but has not said a word to his teacher, his peers, or me. His exceptionality is Speech Lang. Impaired. I talked to his grandmother who said that he talks at home. I talked to the teachers in previous school, and they said that he hadn’t said a word to them. I would really appreciate if someone would share some teaching strategies that the teacher can use in the classroom. Thank you

  9. Lali
    February 27, 2010 at 6:10 pm | #14

    please notify me by email of strategies or any helpful sites that could be helpful regarding SM (want to know only of teaching strategies and assessing his/her academic performances)

  10. patty mariani
    September 22, 2011 at 3:37 am | #15

    My daughter was diagnosed with SM at age 4, we went up to 3rd grade with not one word at school. We changed schools, she spoke the very first day at the new school. It was a miracle. She will never be the most outgoing child, but she is speaking to everyone now. I asked her what she wanted to do, she asked to go to a new school. Listen to your child.

  11. Ashley
    October 9, 2011 at 6:29 pm | #16

    Hiya all

    I was randomly browsing until I came across this blog. I found it very interseting. Im currently undertaking a research project concerning views about home schooling a child with selective mutism. Anyone with personal experience interseted in competing a questionnaire? It would be ever so helpful. Please let me know via email on ‘Ashley_simss@hotmail.co.uk’. Cheeers.

    Ashley

    • sue
      February 9, 2013 at 2:50 am | #17

      dear Laurie, if your daughter can handle regular education then a 504 is the way to go. If a child has an IEP they cannot earn graduate credits in most states and thererfore may not be able to graduatate with a diploma. I am unsure how the SM has been handled in the past but maybe that could be worked into her 504 plan now. As a special educator I know that the real goal is for all children to have the right to a diploma. I would hate to see your daughter loose that opportunity by having an IEP that may or may not allow her that. suethcher49@yahoo.com

  12. Randi
    February 7, 2012 at 9:49 pm | #18

    Hi…I have a 3 year old daughter. She has been classified as SM. She is very bright. Knows all letters and sounds. She is beginning to write, she loves to sing. She is an Angel…perfect child at home ( except the eating…can’t get her to eat much).

    However she cannot say anything around anyone else. She did start talking to her grandparents, but not as much as she talks around us at home. She totally shuts down around others. She wont whisper to me or anything around others. She will pee in her pants because she cannot tell anyone. She holds in her tears because she is scared to cry around others. It’s the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with.

    I love her so much. She has been attending bible study twice a week all of her life. There are two children she will speak to…but only if they are the only ones around. The teachers love her, but she cannot talk to them. She will mouth words to me if others are around, but will not mouth words to her teachers.

    She qualifies to attend a preschool program m-f, that I am considering. However I don’t think it will be enough to help her. How will she ever be able to show her teachers how smart she is. Will she ever be able to read to them? Will I have to home school her? I am so scared for my baby.

    We also have a 6 month old. She is totally different, I can tell right away. It makes me so so sad.

    • Mon
      November 22, 2012 at 7:47 am | #19

      I’m 15, I was diagonosed with SM at like 4. I was a quite kid and being the fifth child this was a blessing to my parents. Going through school I wrote using pen and paper as my only form of communication. I avoided all eye contact but happily talked at home. In year 7 I went to a high school that accommodated for the hearing impaired. It was here that I learnt AUSLAN sign language. This has really encouraged development, as it required eye contact and a clear lip pattern (mouthing words). Now in year 9, I am currently top in all of our classes. I have developed forms of communications, especially in shops or supermarkets. Never give up hope as it does get easier. I am yet to talk to many, only family and a close friend, but this is developing.

  13. Beth
    September 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm | #20

    Randi, I don’t know if you’ve gotten any help yet but there are lots of ways to help your daughter and catching it at 3 years old is great. Start with the preschool teachers, educate them on SM and then see if they will allow you to go in with her every morning before the other kids arrive and work on getting her comfortable and speaking to you in the room and then in the room with her teacher near by, then in front of the teacher, then finally getting her to speak to the teacher. In other words do it in small steps gradually. You can try using something fun or reading an interactive book with her where she would have to speak (i.e what color is the balloon in this book? etc) Once she experiences speaking she will be able to do it more and more. Hope this helps, good luck. I did this with my child in preschool and she started to be able to answer her teachers and speak to the other kids.

  14. Lela Thomas
    March 29, 2013 at 5:57 pm | #21

    Hi! I too find this blog truly interesting. I have a beautiful 12-year old daughter who is very brilliant. I was unaware that she was selectively mute for the first four years of her life because she maintained a very outgoing personality and remained very talkative at home with her other siblings. When we would go out in public, I just assumed that she was very shy. Strangers would often compliment her on how cute she was and she would just give them a “blank stare”… I would prompt her by saying, “tell the nice lady/man thank you”; however, she would not initiate any type of verbal response. I noticed this as being more and more of a problem when we would go out. When she began pre-K, the teachers all expressed worry because she would not sing along with the other children or actively participate. But, suprisingly when it came to academics, she was on the honor roll her first grade year. So, cognitively she was considered exceptionally bright and the teacher in her 1st grade class was glad that she did not talk because it was less discipline problems. As long as she did her work, there was not a problem.

    As she got older, it became apparent to her that her Selective Mutism was a problem for those around her. Many assumed that because she was SM, that she was mentally disturbed. Well, that was far from the truth. My daughter was overly observant of everything going on around her. I knew all of the teachers business amd every detail of what had been said or done each school day because my child would come home and deliver a full report. This was truly shocking to teachers. Yet, I am challenged each year with trying to help her warm up to different teachers and sway them from thinking that my child is being defiant. She is not being defiant, she is misunderstood, underserviced, and has now been sent to an alternative education program in which I am clearlty opposed to…. But, what is a single mother with no support to do in this case? I can’t quit work…. (Upset and frustrated)

    Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments:
    Lela Thomas, M. Ed.
    Educatedlady1975@yahoo.com

  15. Jennifer
    July 1, 2013 at 10:09 pm | #22

    Thank you for this information. I am trying to read everything that I can because I am getting a student next year who has SM. I want to make his transition into 2nd grade as easy as possible and the more I read the more I realize I don’t know. I appreciate sites such as yours. Thank you! My goal is to provide a safe educational setting for him.

    • Edwina grant
      July 14, 2013 at 6:53 am | #23

      You sound great Jennifer. I wish my daughter’s teacher was like you. She may have a chance then. What school are you at?

  16. Heather Haley Baden
    July 29, 2013 at 8:28 pm | #24

    I grew up with SM in a time when it wasn’t a thing…( My dad diagnosed me in my later teen years after watching an episode of 20/20 ;)
    I am now a teacher, and in two weeks I will have a 5th grade student with SM. She will be moving along with the rest of her class to a new school. As a child with SM the first day of school was difficult… I would be all ready to talk to my new teacher (with much anxiety) but a (well-meaning) classmate would break in and tell my teacher “she doesn’t talk”. Well, this would set me back and I would go another year w/o talking :(
    I would like some tips on how I can address this in the classroom so it is not an issue for my girl.
    Heather H.B. M.Ed.

  1. August 26, 2008 at 5:28 am | #1

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