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Selective Mutism


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Any suggestions for working effectively with children who are reluctant speakers (possibly just extremely shy), would be very welcome. I already know that its important to not apply pressure to speak, and that children need to feel confident and secure to speak in nursery/playgroup, but I have heard that it could be hifding a speech or language disorder so when should I start to worry, and is there anything I con do to prevent it becoming an issue.

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Hi

I have an elective/selective mute in my class.

 

She has been in the school since she was 5 and would not speak to anyone at school. But she would speak at home!

 

A very good approach with this child and I know others have used it too, is 'reaking down the barriers'. This is a step by step approach and really works with children of all ages.

 

This year, and she is now 10, this child converses audibly with adults and peers, mind you, she always used to whisper to them any way.

 

Be warned, or look out for how the mutism is used because it can e very manipulative and controlling. This child is extremely so!

 

Good luck, and be patient. If you can get hold of this progrmme then give it a go...it works.

 

Keep us informed :o

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hi,

have you tried using a puppet? Doesn't always work and may need some time but it can be successful!

The children I have encountered have all had another issue, but by accepting them and not putting pressure on, thay have talked although some have remained selective & reluctant.

 

Susan

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This one is really tricky. It is hard to know if there is an underlying problem or the child just doesn't want to talk!

We had a little girl about 3 years ago. She would not speak a word to the adults in the setting but chatted away to the children, until she thought an adult was listening and then she would clam up! So we knew there wasn't a speech and language problem. Her Mum said that she was very talkative at home and never shut up-adding that we would regret it the day she did decide to talk!! :o One of my staff was determined to have her talking and really put the pressure on her-so of course she was more determined not to speak to her or any of us for that matter. I told her to ease up and leave her alone, that if she wanted to talk to us then she would. We let her get on with what she wanted to do. She was very happy and I felt that we were putting too much emphasis on her reluctance to talk.

And Mum was right. One day she came in and she had obviously made up her mind that she would talk to us-we couldn't shut her up!!! xD:( She was such a chatterbox! It was lovely!

Children need time to get to know staff and some take longer than others and if their way to deal with it is to not speak then so be it. How long has she been with you? If not long then this could be the case and you just need to give her time.

Linda

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Agree completely Linda, but it can be possible to encourage children to speak. Its finding the balance isn't it?

 

I don't talk much with strangers either and Hate all those warm -up, gettting to know you type games people seem to think its agood idea to play!

 

Susan

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So do I Susan! I sit at courses and when they say that we are going to do "some role play" my heart sinks!! :o All those strangers and what on earth do you say?? I always feel that I am going to make an idiot of myself.

That's why I think this forum is so good-you can speak your mind, politely of course, and say things and not be embarrassed by people watching!!!

Linda

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Hi there Judith and welcome to the forum, and thanks for making your first post.

I think everything has been well said. We had a child a few years ago, and we first encouraged her to mouth words, which she was quite happy to do, then to whisper them, then to speak in front of 2 or 3 people. It took a whole year to get her to say more than one or 2 words at a time, but she was quite able in other ways. Mum was excellent- there had been a very serious issue at home and when mum explained it to us, it was very clear why she was silent.

My hubby recently taught a child of 15 who is elective mute and wonders how she could have got through the system for so many years never speaking to anyone except family and friends.

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The hard thing is to work out in the early years if this is a pattern that will continue, or if the child is very shy and just going to take time to open up. I would think the key is to have good contact with home, and know if the child speaks well when he/she is comfortable. That should determine if there is a speech and language disorder or not.

 

Being the parent of a very quiet child, I know first hand how frustrating it is when well-meaning people try to encourage her to talk or 'participate' (a very favourite American obsession :o ) When someone does this, or draws attention to her in any way, we take ten steps backwards. She is an observer - this is clearly her learning style. For example, we did a dance class for a semester. She didnt dance one step or say one word in the entire series of classes. The more the teacher and other mums tried to 'encourage' her, the less likely it was that she would move or speak. In fact, she spent the classes holding her dance shoes - she said that this was just in case anyone should want to take them from her! In fact, I think it was her way of making a statement that she was there to watch, not to dance.

 

We heard all sorts of well-meanng advice during the lessons - including "you need to send her to preschool full time so she learns to talk" xD What the staff and other parents didnt realise until I told them, was that when we got home, my daughter could dance every step and sing every song. She loved it! The other funny thing, that I don't think anyone believed, is that she is exceptionally verbal - she spoke in full sentences by 15 months and hasn't looked back!

 

This is one of my challenges in finding a preschool for her (you might have seen my thread about this endless search LOL). I need to find somewhere where she will be given time and space to start talking. I know that the moment someone tries to encourage her, they will set a pattern of being mute, possibly for life. This includes clever strategies - she knows full well when someone is trying to get her to open up. The best way to deal with her is to ignore her, sometimes not even to look at her, but to include her in general chat with the other children. Or to pole bridge - she loves it when someone works alongside her talkng about what they are doing.

 

Eg: when she was painting at home recently, a friend arrived, and she sat beside her and picked up a brush, and started doing her own picture. Her chat ("Oh, a lovely pink, I love this pink, I've got a sweater this colour" etc etc,) gave my daughter chance to relax and forget herself. Soon she was chatting too. But if the friend had said "Oh thats a beautiful picture - did you do it?" that would be enough to silence her for the entire visit.

 

So, the point of this post (there is one, bear with me!!) is:

 

Communicate with parents and trust their knowledge of the child

Rule out parental concerns or other factors that might be an issue (emotional, health etc)

Don't overly encourage speaking

Get alongside and work at the same task. Be silent yourself if necessary. Silence isn't always a bad thing!

Allow time for responses

Never let the child know you're ocncerned, and never mention her talking/not talking in front of her

Never praise her for talking - it will send her backwards!

Pole bridge alongside her

Don't even look at her if it makes her uncomfortable

Make sure that all staff and parents know not to mention the silence or draw attention to the child

Find times to just sit and read etc with the child with zero pressure to talk

Dont' ask her questions and expect an answer - if you really want to include her, answer her question yourself eg 'Oh, Sara likes blue too, I can see, becasue her shoes and socks are blue!"

Be patient! Every child is different and they don't all need to be orators at the age of three!

Know that for every selective mute in class, there is probably a selective talkaholic at home!! :D

 

Hope this helps!

 

Bubblejack - in answer to your question, in some cases I have seen more than one sibling as elective mute -but I have to say in these cases there were generally emotional issues causing the behaviour. In my case, my younger daughter is equally verbal at home (full sentences now at 16 months) She is quiet in public, but after a warming up period will talk in new situations. I don't feel that she will be like my three year old, she is just a different personality. I think an element is learned from the older child - if my three year old is clingy and shy when we arrive somewhere, the little one will copy, but usually the temptation to get into mischief overcomes her and she goes off to explore, generally before her older sister. :D

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Well said Nicola.

There are many reasons why a child won't speak and others why a child can't.

 

My biggest problem has been the other children when I have had a reluctant talker, as when they have begun to interact verbally in the peer group, the children have been so delighted they've rushed to tell me!!

I try not to make too much of the child who won't speak but it is very frustrating when they continually refuse to take part in round the circle games and presumably the children eventually find that difficult too from their reactions.

 

I've never been a big talker with people I don't know and my 14 yr old prefers his own company to this day, I shalla lways remember him taking himself off and sitting under the table at his 2nd birthday party and it was family who he knew very well!

 

Susan

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Hi Nicola

 

What a great and fantastic insight you have into your daughter.

 

The dancing episode reminds me of my daughter who suddenly decided that she didn't want to go to ballet anymore....yet at home and when bo one in particular is watching her, she dances away and people comment upon how she must be doing ballet!

 

Anyway...back to the point, an interesting prespsctive and so oviious too. I think as educators, sometimes we forget, despite all our best eforts that children can so often develop and do whatever when it suits them and not when the book says. I would agree whole heartedly that just because a chld is mute, there is a speech and language disorder. My little girlhas a n excellent command of the spoken word when she chooses to use it.

 

P.S. It's a pity your're not in England as Helen's nursery is fantastic. My daughter went there from the age of 2ish and had a great time!

 

Good luck! :o

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Thankyou for your help everyone.I have been running my pre-school for 25 yrs and I have only had 3 reluctant talkers.They are all girls and all spoke a lot at home according to their parents.The two children I had in the past both came round.It was a very long process we ignored them but included them.They didn't display any signs that made me feel they were upset about their lack of communication.The child I have now still gets upset when her mum brings her in.She has been coming for a year !She always brings a comfort toy that she has to hold all morning together with a picture of her sister and dad.During the morning she often looks so sad she can't tell me why because she will not talk to me.Sometimes she has good weeks on those days she has even spoke to certain other children all the time I feel we are looking out for her but if she notices us watching her she is not going to speak.The other children call her "that girl who can't talk".I correct them by reminding them of her name.I have made her parents aware of the situation and they are very worried about it.I don't know the best way to help the little girl.We do have a special needs advisor available to us who will do an assessment of her but I don't want to put the child under pressure.She was a late talker and was referred to a speech therapist but course she wouldn't co-operate.Anyone got any ideas what I could do next to help her.

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Hi all,

 

On the subject of mutism, can I just reiterate what some of you have already said: listen to the parent(s).

 

This advice comes from experience.

 

When she was about 18 months old, I suspected that my third daughter had a speech problem of some sort. She had extreme problems articulating, and seemed physically uncomfotable when she spoke. Many of her attempts at words were difficult (or impossible) to interpret. We developed 'family strategies'. From a very early age, my daughter did not attempt to speak to anyone outside the immediate family cirlce and could not be encouraged to do so. As soon as this situation started to evolve, I involved the health visitor and speech therapist(s). Over the next year or so, the situation had not improved. My daughter was not co-operative with the ever-changing speech therapists (the 'stranger' situation). We had a referral to the regional child development centre who told us that the problem was me (an over anxious mother - this I certainly have never been).

 

My daughter then started at playgroup. They could not understand why she did not talk, but because she was clearly capable and happy (!), they saw no cause for concern. It seemed that she had decided that, since she could not be readily understood, there was no point in talking. I voiced this opinion to all the professionals (outside my daughter's hearing, obviously). She did enjoy playgroup, though, and communicated non-verbally with the other children. The area pre-school special needs teacher saw her and decided that there was no problem. At the age of three and a half, one of the speech therapists referred my daughter to a plastic surgeon. She was unco-operative for the assessment and he asked that she be re-referred a year later.

 

Speech therapists changed yet again, and again. My daughter continued to be mute in the company of strangers. When she was aged four and a half, I asked for a re-referral to the plastic surgeon. This was denied to me, because the speech therapist at the time could see no point.

 

My daughter started school, and (only) at my insistence, speech therapy continued. I had pre-warned the school of the problem, and they took this seriously. Luckily, a new speech therapist took up the local post, and listened to my concerns. She excelled herself in winning my daughter's trust, and about a year and a half later (having worked very had to assess and progress my daughter's speech), re-referred her to the child development centre (as she felt it was too late to approach the plastics people directly). The child development professional who had labelled me as an over anxious mother then referred us to the plastic surgeon, who reassessed my daughter in the presence of the trusted speech therapist. Within 2 months of seeing the surgeon, my daughter (then aged 7) had corrective plastic surgery to rectify a congenital physical defect (she underwent surgical reconstruction of her pharynx).

 

There has been no looking back. Immediately after the op (as soon as some of the soreness had gone), she had the confidence to speak to strangers. One of her first comments to me was that it was easier to talk, even though it hurt. Her confidence outside the home situation increased many-fold, virtually instantly.

 

Now she is nine and a half, she has been through another two years of speech therapy (she is having to learn how to make sounds that she had never before been capable of). Unfortunately the trusted speech therapist left her post in the summer. My daughter, however, now has the confidence to work with the replacement. Speech therapy will continue for the forseeable future.

 

So, the moral is: listen to the parent. Sometimes the parent suspects there is a real problem. The parent may not know exactly what this could be, but the parent knows the child, and can see aspects of the child that no-one else can ever hope to. If the professionals had listened to me when my daughter was four, we could have avoided three years of anguish, and we would now be three years further on. Our problems are on the way to being resolved, but if I had given up when I was given the brush-off five years ago.............who knows?

 

Good luck, everyone, with the children who have problems.

 

Diane.

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Oh Diane,

what a sad story you tell but thank goodness you have a happy ending, if delayed!

 

you are of course right that Parents have a very important role to play, unfortunately they can also be in denial too and we see that only too often BUT I hope that the emphasis on the parents as partners in the Foundation Stage and in particular their role in the development of the profile will encourage us all to engage in a more profitable way.

 

I have never been frightened of standing up for my children and if that makes me a pain, well thats something the teachers have had to cope with. My child is too precious to be messed with and I hope I, as teacher can be more understanding too.

 

Susan

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Diane - what a fascinating story! It just shows how we need to always be mindful of the parent's insight into their child. I know from personal experience with my daughter how frustrating it can be to be labelled by professionals, even though they don't necessarily write it down. I'm sure I have 'overprotective mother' on the mental notes of a few people. xD Luckily, though, most people do trust my judgement and listen to me. I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to know that your child has a problem but be dismissed. Sigh.

 

The strong message from this thread, I guess, is that children can be silent for any number of reasons. By remaining mindful all the possible factors and working with parents, a solution can be found - hopefully not after wasting several years!

 

I think we also need to bear in mind that people all have different learning styles, and that for some people, talking incessantly isn't a part of their learning profile. :o

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  • 2 weeks later...

hi I have an elective mute in my Reception class. she has only been with me since September and has not uttered a word to either myself or any other adult within the setting. She is also silent when playing with the other children.

 

I have spoken to her mother who tells me she speaks readily at home and that her language use is advanced for her age. Her mother is putting alot of pressure on her and on myself to encourage her to speak at school. She recently approached me at the end of the day and asked if her child had spoken today, when she was told no she then shouted at her telling her that if she didnt speak she wouldn't get any treats, however i am keen not to pressure this little girl into speaking and making the fact that she doesnt speak a big issue. I have set up a system of cards so she has pictures to communicate non verbally, and she is making progress when interacting with her peers.

 

I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions on how to encourage the child in class, but also how to deter the parent from putting pressure on her child as i feel that this will only serve to hinder the child's willingness to speak at school.

 

Thanks

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Hi there Kelly, first of all welcome to the site, and thanks for your first post.

Sorry to hear about your dilemma. You are quite right not to want to force the issue, she will speak when she is good and ready. Ther could be any number of reason why she is not talking at school yet eg confidence, lack of experience, or something else (assuming that they do share a common language to begin with?) Has mum suggested that she is always like that with strangers or is it something that is only happening at school?

You are obviously making progress with your picture cards, does she use those when playing, or is she starting to talk with other children? We have deaf children in our school so its quite usual to sign so the non speakers communicate in that way to begin with (as most are EAL, and have no english at all when they start).

Keep talking to mum about it being early days yet and telling her all the wonderful things she is doing and suggest that mum also showers her with praise for these things. Keep being positve no matter how hard this is at times , and I am sure that she will slowly begin with a word here or there, maybe after Christmas.

Do keep us posted :D

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Kelly, we had a little girl last year who refused to speak in school. She would read at home but never at school. We had to ask Mum to come in and we secretly listened while she read with Mun just so we could have an idea as to how she was doing. Our ed psyc said there was nothing extra we could do, just wait.

The little girl eventually spoke with one of out TAs and this lasted into the next class. The family have moved on now which is sad. She was a happy wee soul who joined in everything she could without speaking. Chris

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It was really helpful reading about this subject. I have a girl in reception. She is a selective mute in class but chatterbox at home. I am concerned that leaving her to listen on the sidelines means that I am not enabling her to participate in the planned curriculum. How do you hear a reader who refuses to speak? Occasionally she will point to words she can read if asked and sometimes mouths them. She apparently reads at home. Her mother has tried coming into the classroom to hear readers including her; but this seemed to distress her so we haven't tried this again. Should she be encouraged to participate in a PE session? In these she sometimes stands like a statue in the middle of the hall as others work around her. Occasionally she gets caught up in what we are doing and participates. In apparatus work she usually refuses to move and I give her the option of sitting at the side to watch - having encouraged her to join a warm up and then a cool down at the end.

 

My tactics vary but nothing seems successful. She speaks to other children if she thinks no adult is watching or listening. She is no 4 of 6 children. Her Sister was also very shy in Reception but now interacts actively in class.

 

Any other thoughts/ideas would be gratefully received.

 

AOB

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Hello, I asked for advice about selective mutism on this site in November. I received some very helpful responses, all of them stressing the importance of not pressurising the child or giving them undue attention in response to the behaviour. I don't know if it is possible but it would be worth tracking back to the replies I had for the advice which is far too extensive for me to write now. I did print it out so if you have no luck finding the original replies I will type out some of it as soon as I can.

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Hi Judith -

You're sitting at the bottom of the topic you started, so if you go to the top of this page and click page 1, you'll find all the original posts, which are still available! Hope that makes sense - if not just send me a PM or post another message here. :)

 

Unless you're looking for another topic?

 

Regards, Steve.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks Steve I always get lost looking around things, but in this case I was mainly hoping that someone else (AOB) would look back to all the helpful advice I had received, particularly from Diane :D , and be able to use it herself.

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Thanks Judith,

 

I've been through all the previous comments and have found them inspirational. I feel less frustrated and perhaps have been the source of less pressure. The child in question seems to be responding. She is beginning to read to a TA in a quiet corner in a whisper! She also ate a little food in company at our Christmas tea. It feels as though things are looking up a little. Thanks to all those whose comments have helped.

 

Angela

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  • 1 month later...

My own child (now 9) had the confidence last week to read a poem (that she had written) to the whole class.

 

It took her almost 2 days before she imparted this information to me. I was so proud when she told me. It was such a step for her.

 

Also, in the last week, she has answered the phone to an unknown caller (my mobile, whilst I was driving). She did it so well!

 

She is not 'selectively mute', but because of her speech problems, she prefers not to talk for fear of not being understood. Due to local speech therapist shortages, we are currently without expert help (we have worked through everything given to us in August to tide us through).

 

Sorry, just had to give some good bits.

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