Through the years I have had a few students with selective mutism. When I met my first student with S.M., I thought she was just very shy. For this post, I will call her Sally but that is not her real name. But, after a couple of weeks of school, it was clear that there was more going on that a case of shyness. That is when I asked for a meeting with Sally’s parents to get their insight into what was happening. Her parents told me that she would only talk to the people in her immediate family and one neighbor. She wouldn’t even speak to her grandparents or cousins. After observations and meetings with her pediatrician, counselor, speech pathologist, she was officially diagnosed as having selective mutism.
Luckily, Sally’s parents were very open to ideas and happy to try anything that we suggested. Sally’s mom would send me something to school on a weekly basis. Sometimes it was a bag of cookies that Sally and her mom had baked together. Other times Sally’s mom let her pick out a packet of stickers to donate to our class. Sally’s job was to hand the item(s) to me. We set the following goals:
1st: Hand the item to the teacher without mom standing beside her. I said thank you but did not ask her any questions about the item.
2nd: Hand the item to the teacher while looking at the teacher. I said thank you but did not ask her any questions about the item.
3rd: Hand the item to the teacher and say you’re welcome. I said thank you but did not ask her any questions about the item.
4th: Hand the item to the teacher while looking at the teacher and say you’re welcome. I said thank you but did not ask her any questions about the item.
5th: Hand the item to the teacher while looking at the teacher and say you’re welcome. Answer teacher’s question with one word. I said thank you and then asked her a question that could be answered with one word – usually a yes/no question.
6th: Hand the item to the teacher while looking at the teacher and say you’re welcome. Answer teacher’s question with 2 or more words. I said thank you and then asked her a question that required a few more details.
Once again, Sally’s parents provided extra support to help her build relationships with her classmates. Sally and her mom loved to bake. Usually students only brought treats for their birthday. I gave her mom permission to send in treats more frequently. When Sally passed out the treats to her classmates, she was concentrating on the actual process of passing out, and less about her anxiety about communicating with her classmates. We set goals for this too.
1st: Pass out treats without teacher support.
2nd: Pass out treat and make eye contact with classmates.
3rd: Pass out treat, make eye contact with classmates, and smile when student says thank you.
4th: Pass out treat, make eye contact with classmates, and say you’re welcome when classmate says thank you.
Sally received weekly support from our school counselor. Our counselor let Sally choose a buddy come with her. She and the buddy played games in the counselor’s office. In the beginning, Sally would only smile and shake her head for yes or no. But, over time she slowly began to whisper to the counselor and her buddy. I think it helped that there was only one buddy and they were in a quiet office so she felt more comfortable. By the end of the year, she was able to invite 3 buddies to go with her. As you can imagine she became very popular because she got to pick her buddy(ies). Word quickly spread that if Sally chose you, you got to go play games. Students wanted to sit by her at lunch and invited her to play games with them at recess.
There are different reasons why a student may have S.M. Sometimes it is an anxiety issue. Click HERE to read more about this topic.
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