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Selective mutism
Old 01-19-2006, 09:34 AM
 
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I am a Resource teacher of a 6th grade student who has been diagnosed last year as a selective mute. He also has severe anxiety. When with his friends or family, he appears to be a normal little boy, but when he goes into the classroom, he completely shuts down. For a long time, he was thought to be just severly shy. Due to these problems, he has gotten extremely behind in his academics. He cannot do the work of most 3rd grade students. We are told that it will not help him any to be retained. Does anybody have any experience and suggestions for children like this?


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Old 01-20-2006, 11:35 AM
 
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Dear Puzzled:

I belong to a support group for parents and teachers of children with anxieties, many of which are selectively mute. The situation you are describing is one which we are beginning to see. As many of our children "shut down" during the early years in school, much of the foundation for reading, writing and arithmetic is not mastered. Some of our older children have been diagnosed with a receptive/expressive learning disorder but today, these parents are beginning to believe their children do not have this learning disorder. Instead, they believe there is a "hole" or "gap" in their child's knowledge caused by their extreme distress and anxieties which prevented the child from learning.

Some of our children are on IEP's with an "easier" curriculum and one parent has advised the school that her child be retained (works best for sm children if in the very early years). However, one parent has her child in extensive tutoring sessions and this seems to be working well. Is there someone in your school who would be willing to work one-on-one with this child? Also, I might suggest that the parents provide private tutoring for this child to see if he is able to "catch up" in those areas in which he is weak. Most of our anxiety-prone children have the ability to do the classwork if given the opportunity. Best of luck -

Joan
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Old 01-20-2006, 02:09 PM
 
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Thank you Joan. I do work one on one with this student for about an hour and 45 minutes a day and have ben for the last year and 1/2. We are going no where but in circles. He will barely speak to me. What kind of support group are you in?
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Old 01-20-2006, 06:48 PM
 
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Dear Puzzled:

If you have been working one-to-one with this child for such a long time and little to no progress has been made (and I am assuming the student is of average or above-average in intelligence), then it is time the parents look into different treatment. Sm children usually require a multi-modal method of treatment - intervention, therapy and in severe cases medication. Your student is a severe case.

Our own sm child is now in Grade 5 and she is doing very well in school. Teachers see her as "shy" but not selectively mute any more. She has been on medication for over three years and definitely was in the "severe" category re anxieties. She did not begin to speak until mid-way through Grade 2 and was not really able to learn as she is capable until this school year. If your student is on medication, then it is the wrong dose or the wrong choice of medication for him (and it appears as if he requires medication). We had to try two different medications at various dosages before we found the correct "fit". This is common. Really, by Grade 6 a selectively mute child should be making more progress.

Our support group is very informal - parents and teachers who meet monthly to discuss issues and problems and offer support and hope to each other. Often we will have guests as psychologists, speech therapists, or pharmacists who might be able to answer some of our questions (although in some instances we have been able to "shed the light" on the disorder for our professionals to better help future parents and children). Many large centers have support groups similar to ours.

I would still suggest to the parents that they find someone their son trusts and feels at ease with to tutor their son - perhaps in the comfort of his home he will be able to learn easier. I did try to tutor our child when she was in Grade 2 but the fears of schoolwork (even in the comfort and safety of our home) were too overwhelming for her to concentrate and learn. But, your first suggestion should be a change in his treatment (if he is indeed involved in any sort of treatment). This will require delicate wording because as teachers (please remember) we are not to diagnose nor suggest treatment or medications for our students.

Best of luck -

Joan
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Old 01-25-2006, 05:28 PM
 
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I have a third grader that sounds like your 6th grader. He hasn't spoke a word at school at all since he entered school. He is at least two years behind in most areas.. He talks in a normal voice at home. He whispered a little in first grade. He whispers one or two words to me occasionally. He can not read. It is very difficult to work with him in the classroom I'd love some suggestions also!


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Old 01-25-2006, 09:57 PM
 
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I had a second grader who was selectively mute years ago. He too, began by whispering to me when I was at my desk. He eventually began talking in a small group, then before the year was up, during the whole class time just like everyone else. The kids knew he could talk because they heard him on the bus and some played with him in their neighborhood.
I was told by pyschologists to let him just sit in class and not to call on him etc. I didn't agree with that. I decided to just treat him like everyone else in my class. I didn't even think of him being incapable. I talked to the kids (when he was out of the room) about not acting surprised if he talked. To quit staring at him when he was called on and to stop saying "he can't talk". I want all of my students to feel safe in class. Safe to ask questions, safe from being afraid of others etc. The kids understood, with a few reminders here and there. When he did talk, I didn't make any big deal about it at all. I would just respond to him like any other student. If he tried to just "tell" me something without talking, I acted like I didn't understand. So he ended up talking. The next year when 3rd grade started, he continued to talk in class. I told the teacher just to treat him like the others and it worked. He was very happy once he started talking and nobody made a big deal over it. He was all smiles, like a big weight was lifted off him.
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Old 02-08-2006, 10:36 AM
 
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I am a State Coordinator for the Selective Mutism Group (www.selectivemutism.org) and the mom of a child with Selective Mutism. Selective Mutism is a social communication anxiety disorder. that affects 7 out of 1000 children. There are varying degrees of severity.

It is not unusual for an SM child in 6th grade to be shut down to that extent. This is especially true for a child who has not received therapy or accommodations specifically targeted to the SM issues.

A child with SM should never be put in the position of being forced to talk. Communication, even nonverbal, needs to be the goal - not talking. Most SM children are extremely intelligent. If a SM child is struggling with academics (assuming they are not being marked down for not participating verbally), you may be looking at an additional learning disability. Also, most SM children also have SPD (Sensory Processing Dysfunction - aka Sensory Integration Dsyfunction). The most common SPD for SM children is tactile defensive. Therefore, to understand the child with SM, you need to understand SPD also.

I would suggest your joining the Selective Mutism Group. As a member, you can get in touch with your state coordinator who can offer you a wealth of information. Also, there are chat sessions, penpals link-ups, support groups, etc. There are also conferences offered and annual family retreats.

There was an excellent article in the Feb. 6, 2006 issue of Time. The article describes the classic SM child.
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