SM Strategy- How to ask questions
When working with a child with selective mutism, among the main exchanges you want to avoid are yes and no questions. You might be wondering why it’s important to avoid these types of the questions. Well, the answer is quite simple when you think about it: Yes and no questions can be easily answered with a simple nod or shake of the head. Allowing your child to answer using by non-verbals is reinforcing the communication that we are trying to overcome. One way to stop using yes and no questions is to change them to open-ended questions or forced choice questions.
An opened-ended question cannot be answered with a yes or no, or with a specific piece of information. An open-ended question allows the person to answer the question with as much information as needed. Some examples of an opened-ended question are: “What would you like to do today?” “What did you do this weekend?” “Why are you going over to your friends house?” “What color do you want to use?”
A forced choice question is one in which options are given, and the person has to choose one or the other. A forced choice question gives the person boundaries to choose from. Some examples of forced choice questions are: “Would you like red or blue?” “Do you want carrots or celery?” “Do you want to use crayons or markers?”
This sounds easy enough, but it can be challenging when you are in the moment. So many times we ask those simple yes or no questions because they are quick and easy to answer to. When working with children with SM, it is important that we push verbal communication in as many ways as possible. When you start an exchange with open-ended question, quite often the child will not answer- but be patient. Wait at least five seconds for a response, this will be uncomfortable both for the child and you. If the child does not respond then change your question to a forced choice question. Give two options to choose from, as this will reduce some anxiety and tension. If this still doesn’t work, have the child tell the answer to someone s/he feels comfortable talking and who can assist. Here is an example of starting with an open-ended question and working your way down:
“Billy, what would you like to use to decorate your paper?” (Wait 5 seconds for a response)
“Would you like to use crayons or markers?” (Wait 5 seconds for a response)
“Billy, will you let Alex know what you would like to use to decorate your paper.”
As already noted, allow the child time to process and answer the question. Using different levels of questions is a great way to show the child you are knowing what they have to say and are willing to switch things around to help them. Most importantly be patient when using these questions, keeping in mind that these children have a fear of talking and requite a lot of courage to use their voice.
Article written by Salina Bisson, LLMSW, Social Worker at Horizons Developmental Resource Center.
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