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Selective Mutism


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Hi All, was just after a little bit of advice really.

 

We have a male child (3.4 years) in our setting who returned to pre-school after the easter holidays for the first week (4 days) and then he was away until this week, returning as usual on Monday morning.

 

We have kept up a good stream of communication with Mum, who informed us the reason for the child's absence was because they had to return to Ireland (where the family are originally from) to care for a sick relative (child's nan, mum's side). When I have spoken to Mum, I have always asked after both her mum and her son, because we have missed him at pre-school (one of the livewires! :o ). Other children were missing him too so by asking after him, I was able to report back to his friends.

 

In the last week prior to his return, I had heard nothing from Mum. When she turned up with her son on Monday morning I was quite surprised to see them both and made a fuss over the child, asking him questions about his 'holiday' (as Mum had called it) etc. However, I noticed that although the child was looking at me and maintaining eye contact, nodding or shaking his head, he seemed very reluctant to actually talk to me.

 

I thought it was perhaps because he had been away for so long and had maybe forgotten who I was or because he was anxious about returning to pre-school and separating from his mum. He went into the playroom with a minimum of fuss, seemingly pleased to return to his friends and his favourite toys.

 

Once he was out of earshot, I asked Mum if everything was ok whilst they were away, to which she replied that her mum was much better and in the last week the family were away, they were able to do some sightseeing and show the child around different places. She then (rather casually, I thought) mentioned that the child had not spoken since they returned. Not to his parents or anyone outside of the family. She thought it was because he would be missing his nan and the various cousins he had met whilst they were away. However, she then when on to mention that she had received a telephone call from her mother a couple of evening previously and the child showed no interest whatsoever, so she is now thinking that perhaps this is not the reason he has become so quiet.

 

She has asked me what I think could be the matter and to be honest, I have no idea. I have never experienced something like this before and I don't really know what to advise.

 

I was due to attend a SENCO training course in June, but obviously with the closure of our pre-school, I'm now not going. There is no-one with SENCO training at the moment as the last SENCO left without notifying me, hence the rush to get trained up. My boss is away for the next 2 weeks and I'm feeling a bit alone on this one. xD

 

I really want to be able to suggest something to this parent, to help try and put her mind at rest, but I have no idea where to start or what to suggest. So any help, would be really and truly gratefully received.

 

Sorry for the long one, but thanks for looking!

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Guest MaryEMac

From what you have written, Clare, it does seem to me that perhaps something has happened while they have been away. As Susan says perhaps the health visitor could help. As for the pre- school, I think if you carry on as you normally would hopefully the child will feel secure again and possibly begin to talk, if only to his friends at first. I'm sorry that I can't be more help.

Mary

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I agree a word with the health visitor. Try usual games to encourage " no pressure" talking, ie: lots of telephones available, pretend one rings near him and encourage him to pick it up, just talking into the phone to no one in particular.

Maybe make up a story for storytime about a little boy who "lost" his voice, went off on holiday and left it behind, how can they get it back? Could it be posted? The "lost voice" could be having an adventure and when it returns, tells everyone about it, a bit like a repetitive, memory story to involve all children.

Don't stop talking to him, even though you don't get a response, talk about the things that excite him, narrate the things he is doing as he does it. Observe when he "nearly" communicates verbally with his friends, what other methods he is using to communicate. Gradually encourage singing songs etc.

 

I noticed on "Little Angels" on telly the other night there is a child on that who is selective mute, he did have a "breakthrough" and spoke to one other little girl. Maybe this storyline will continue on the programme over the next few days, mention it to mum.

 

Sometimes these things can trigger because of very subtle things, that no-one may notice, as well as a particular "trauma".

 

hopefully he will settle back into the swing of things and feel able to talk soon with his friends. The less stress shown at his reluctance to talk, the better, and when he does talk, try not to all overwhelm him with the "Wow, you spoke" reaction.

 

You obviosly have a very good relationship with mum, and although it helps to understand the reasons behind certain behaviours, they are "past tense" the important yet difficult part is how to remedy or get through this stage. Reassure mum that it will just be a stage. It may take a while or all be settled after a few weeks.

 

Good luck, let us know how things go.

 

Peggy

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Peggy - you've beaten me to it - I was going to mention the TV programme... I think it may be House of Tiny Tearaways (BBC THREE @ 8pm) but it may have featured on Little ANgels too, as Dr Tanya does that too!

 

Dr Tanya Byron thinks that he does not like the sound of his own voice in public, so she is trying to work out his rules of communication and play along with him. She started by getting him to make sounds (she kept dropping a crayon and saying 'oh no' and he copied her) He also spoke to the little girl, as Peggy mentioned.

 

THere may have been a lot of noise or the opposite, a lot of quiet and the little boy was not allowed to be himself whilst away and is now reluctant to 'speak up'?

 

Find things to do that the child enjoys, use puppets for him to give a voice to and try not to worry too much - just keep mum informed of what you are doing so that she can try and do the same at home.

 

RB x

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With anything that I have been unsure about with my own daughter I have always called on the Health Visitor for advice. Why didn't I think of that in this case!? :oxD

Thanks for all your advice. I was planning on incorporating more talking opportunities into our plans for the foreseeable future as a means of encouraging him to speak - the telephones have been out pretty much constantly for the past 3 days along with tape recorders (with microphones) but I love the story idea, Peggy so I think I'm going to run with that for a bit and see what happens.

 

The staff have all been briefed on trying to keep talking to him, include him as normal in their interactions and from what has been said, it would seem I'm on the right track.

 

Obviously I shall be observing him and passing on info to mum as and when. I shall mention that programme and see if she would be interested in having a look. I have asked mum today to let me know if anything changes whilst he is at home.

 

The difficult bit now is trying to make explanations to the other children about the sudden change... :(

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Explaining to the other children.......

 

If they ask, why isn't he talking, it is ok to say you don't know. :o Turn it around and ask them what they think.

 

You can let them know that he can still listen, and likes to be talked to and still likes to play etc.

 

 

Peggy

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I have tried to encourage the children to continue talking to him as they would normally, but it isn't easy! They seem to think because he isn't speaking, he can't hear so they have all been shouting at him all day, then there's me trying to get above them and saying he can hear. All in all a very noisy day!

 

Thanks for the advice Peggy. I feel a bit mean if I can't tell them why, but I suppose if I just don't know why, there's not much else I can say!

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I have tried to encourage the children to continue talking to him as they would normally, but it isn't easy! They seem to think because he isn't speaking, he can't hear so they have all been shouting at him all day, then there's me trying to get above them and saying he can hear. All in all a very noisy day!

 

Thanks for the advice Peggy. I feel a bit mean if I can't tell them why, but I suppose if I just don't know why, there's not much else I can say!

56776[/snapback]

 

 

Don't feel mean, it's just because you care :o

 

Peggy

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Today has been another day of silence. Mum came in this morning and within seconds of the child entering the room, she was crying her eyes out. I asked her again if there was anything she could think of that might have upset the child etc, but she is adamant that there is nothing she can think of.

 

I felt really bad for her. She really was in a state, so I tried to comfort her as best I could, explaining to her that it was likely to be a stage, but she should try and think of anything that might have affected him whilst they were away. I mentioned that she should try her Health Visitor for advice and (I really cannot believe she said this...) she said she couldn't take him to the Health Visitor until the holidays as she was so busy at work :oxD . I suggested she tried ringing instead, until she could go in. I didn't know what else to say.

 

Her attitude annoyed me a bit, I have to say. She was really crying and getting herself in a state about her son, whilst at the same time, seemed to be making excuses for not taking him to attempt to get some advice or help.

 

I have, in the past phoned my own health visitor over concerns about a child in nursery (at almost 11 months he wouldn't eat solids) and she was brilliant, so I thought of maybe doing the same in this case. I know that if it was my daughter, I would move heaven and earth to get her seen. So I really can't understand why this mother is prepared to wait. On the other hand, she might be hoping that it all goes away and the child becomes 'better' by himself. I'm trying not to be critical and judgemental. I suppose it might just be a mixed parenting view?

 

On top of all this, the children have been awful today. Taunting and goading the child by hitting him and calling him names. We had circle time today and tried Peggy's story idea and the children loved it! They were really enthusiastic and we even had a little girl who had sent her voice on 'holiday' for about half an hour until mum came to collect her. I keep explaining to them that name calling and hitting are not nice and that they should keep talking to him as they usually would. But this is really difficult when the child is sitting with the group, as I don't want to say or do anything that will have an adverse effect.

 

Sorry once again, for the long post. Wanted to keep everyone updated on our progress!

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Hi Clare, It appears that you may be feeling a bit like you are on your own in supporting this child whilst others are less "bothered", this can provoke feelings of frustration and even anger.

The children are being nasty, the mother is "too busy", the child isn't helping himself, and the normal everyday preschool life has changed, been affected by this "problem" that has no apparent cause, and no apparent light at the end of the tunnel. As early years workers we want to make "everything better" and we want to do it yesterday. :o . I empathise how this must be for you right now. Use the weekend as a complete break from these worries.

 

In my preschool, when children first register, I have a list of practices which require parental permission, one of them is that I can contact the health visitor, Area Senco or any other "professional", at any time, should I feel the need, in the best interest of the child. This is explained to parents and all sign agreement. This then enables me to call in "professionals" without having to get permission from any parents every time a need is identified. I do of course discuss with parents my intention, and follow up discussions about what support and advice I receive.

In your case I would ask parent if it's ok to call the health visitor to observe the child at preschool ( as parent is unable to arrange a HV visit at the moment).

You are right not to be judgemental on "parenting style" there are many reasons why mum may be reluctant to "find out more about the reasons behind her childs selective mutism". She may have her own ideas which she is still in denial of. She may also feel guilty that work is stopping her from giving her child the time he needs, or this "excuse" can help delay facing some realities she doesn't feel able to yet. She will be feeling a bit "helpless" with the situation, which in itself undermines confidence.

 

By getting the professionals into preschool you are in a way supporting the parent in "dealing with the childs needs" and of course getting the advice and support for the child.

 

As for how the other children are responding, this is quite sad to see/experience, we all hope that we instill a sense of fairness in our children, don't think too harsh of them, they are reacting to a sense of " confusion" not understanding their friends change of behaviour, rather than not being understanding ( if you know what I mean). Yes, talk to the children as a group about acceptable behaviour, no bullying etc, but may I suggest that you observe which children are instigating the verbal attacks, ( others may follow/copy just out of wanting to be like their peers). and spend time with the "leaders" on an individual basis, not in a telling off way but in a "have you thought about...." way. This will not necessarily improve behaviour overnight though, but will help address their confusion and developing awareness of others needs.

 

I'm glad you found the story idea useful, even though it actually encouraged another child not to speak for half an hour xD . As the children responded well, with their imaginations, tell it a few more times, letting the children decide different adventures and endings. Maybe use it as a prompt to discuss feelings involved when the voice was lost. etc etc.

 

Good luck, keep us informed how things go.

 

Peggy

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Thanks for the reassurances Peggy.

 

You are right, I do feel as if I'm being left alone to sort it all out and whilst I don't mind 'helping out', I'm starting to feel a little resentful that this is all being left to me. Thank goodness for the forum!!

 

You are right about observing the 'instigators' of the name calling etc. I know of two little darlings already. Do you think it would be worth recording what they say, when, a bit like an ABC observation? That way I am collecting hard evidence which may make it easier to identify an approach to use?

 

I've already been wandering around within close proximity to the child but not so much that he realises I am following him, pen poised ready to write any little thing that happens, hence the day off for paperwork catch up!

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Yes, I think ABC approach would be good, it is more often "what" is said, rather than "How" children speak to each other that really indicates the childs "understanding" of the situation. ie: the "instigators" may be feeling cross with the boy because they feel he has chosen not to talk to them anymore, the "he's not my friend" scenario all children of this age struggle with. Or they may see it in a completely different way. Without observation we would only be working with assumptions. ( all be they professional judgement, may not always be on the right track, so to speak)

 

Not meaning to sound patronizing,I'm sure you know this already, but do try to put the issue into context of priority, don't let it overshadow other daily doings. Difficult, I know, but standing back and just letting be, can sometimes be a good way of seeing things as they are more clearly.

 

Peggy

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Not meaning to sound patronizing,I'm sure you know this already, but do try to put the issue into context of priority, don't let it overshadow other daily doings.  Difficult, I know, but standing back and just letting be, can sometimes be a good way of seeing things as they are more clearly.

 

 

56939[/snapback]

 

 

Not at all Peggy! I think I'm getting so het up about it that it is affecting other areas of my work xD and that is something that obviously I would like to try and avoid. I'm going to take your advice (once again :o ) and take a step back and just see without particularly watching for specifics.

 

Right! That is it. I am going to put this dilemma out of my mind (hopefully) over the weekend and I am going to go down the pub (Mum and Dad run it so plenty of fun and freebies!!)

 

Hope you have a good one too! :D

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  • 2 months later...

I have supported a child in the past who was diagnosed as a selective mute - this child may have expereinced trauma - so it may not be selective mutism - it is a specialist area and we shouldn't be too quick to label it.

you should contact the speech and language therapist for advice

however a child is classed as a selective mute if they do not speak in a social situation, they may chat happily at home but not in other places unfamiliar or with large groups of people/children

there should be no pressure to speak at this moment

 

ask the parent if you can phone speech and language for advice

 

also there is a website

 

http://www.channel4.com/health/microsites/...ems/speech.html

 

http://www.selectivemutism.org/

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Well, nefertari,

 

I like your style, three posts, not counting your introduction, and already some really useful input!!

 

Keep it up, look forward to getting to know you :D:D

 

Sue

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