First, what is selective mutism? Selective mutism is a complex childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a child’s inability to speak in select social settings or with certain people, such as school or the teacher at school. Children with selective mutism are able to speak and communicate in settings where they are comfortable and more relaxed, such as at home or with peers.
Here are some tips for assisting your child with selective mutism this school year:
- Fade-ins are always beneficial. Allow the child to meet with the teacher one-on-one (virtually or in-person) to speak without the rest of the class present prior to the start of school. If this is not possible, it is advised to schedule a one-on-one time with the teacher either before or after the school day so the child can practice speaking to the teacher in a less stressful environment as soon as possible.
- *Considerations for remote-learners: Fade-ins can be conducted remotely. Ask the teacher to start with his/her camera off while you and your child play a game requiring verbalizations (e.g. I Spy) in front of your camera. Once your child is comfortably answering your questions, you can instruct the teacher to turn on their camera and gradually begin making their way closer to the screen. As your child continues to be verbal with you, the teacher can slowly integrate themselves more into the game/activity until your child is ready to answer the teacher’s forced-choice questions (e.g. Do you have a brother or sister, or no siblings?). If possible, keep the interaction play-based and fun.
- Implement a daily report card for your child’s specific goals. With the teacher, identify two goals each week for the child (e.g. raising their hand, verbally responding to teacher, verbally responding to peers, increasing volume of verbalizations, staying in front of the camera). Have the teacher “check” or put a sticker each time the child completes the goal activity. At the end of the day and at the end of the week, reward your child at home for meeting goals. Goals should be gradually increased in difficulty week to week.
For more information about Selective Mutism, visit www.SelectiveMutism.org.