Selective Mutism Tips
Imagine you are a seven year old boy at school. You are sitting in class listening to your teacher, when all of a sudden you have to use the bathroom. You raise your hand to tell the teacher; but when you speak, nothing comes out. Everyone is looking at you and wondering what the problem is, but you cannot talk; it’s like you are frozen. The urge to use the restroom is gaining, and before you know it you have an accident. Thankfully, this is just a fictional story; but sadly enough, this has been a reality for many children diagnosed with selective mutsim.
Selective mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder portrayed by a child’s inability to speak in social situations such as school or in a public setting. The failure to speak is not attributable to lack of knowledge or comfort with the spoken language. The mutism is the child avoiding their anxious feelings when expected to perform. Children with this disorder have an actual FEAR to speak in social situations, which can be debilitating and interfere with educational achievements and critical social interaction skills.
I have had the privilege to work with children diagnosed with SM, and it was an eye-opening experience. It is a diagnosis that I hold very near and dear to my heart; and the more I research and see this play out in real life, the more I realize that parents and educators are struggling when figuring out what to do with these kids. Here are a few simple rules to keep in mind.
- Understand this is not a choice– These children are not choosing to be this way or be defiant. This is an anxiety disorder that is debilitating them.
- Be patient– Speaking is hard for these kids; give them time, and be wait for them.
- Praise them– When you see your child or student speaking in a situation that you know is hard for them acknowledge their strength and bravery!
- Courtesy can be hard– Many people do not know this, but words like ‘hello’ or ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ can be some of the hardest phrases for children with SM. Please don’t think of them as rude, but be understanding of their struggle.
- No comparing– Don’t compare your child’s progress to another, or one week to the next. Stay away from phrases like, ‘You were doing so well- what happened?’ Instead, encourage your child to keep working- and remind them just how brave they are.
- Don’t quit– Don’t give up on your child, nor put the issue aside thinking it is something they will “grow out of.”
Selective mutism is a real disorder, and should be taken seriously. Speaking is something that many of us take for granted, and it isn’t until we are put in a situation where we have no words that we realize it. For parents and those in the education field, please be aware of selective mutism and the debilitating effects it can have on your child or students.
Article written by Salina Bisson, LLMSW, Social Worker at Horizons Developmental Resource Center.
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