The Silence Within….is my daughter a selective mute?

I haven’t gotten onto the subject of my weblog name (which is about raising my girls – not about me) – I was too busy revisiting the past and talking about how I’ve gotten to where I am. After I started writing this blog I wasn’t sure where this was going to go. I’ve had an unexpected turn of events happen in the past two days that has given me a clue to one of my daughters unusual behaviors. My middle daughter, 4.5, is bright, sensitive, and a little bit anxious. Or so I thought. Well, let me clarify – she is bright and she is sensitive, but she’s more than a little bit anxious.

At home, she is outgoing, loud, bossy, overemotional, sensitive (hurt feelings abound and she has been very sensitive to sounds), temperamental, and not capable of regulating her strong emotions. Out in public, she was shy, clingy, fearful (my oldest was shy too, so this didn’t phase me much). In public settings, she seemed to be “good” and “easy to handle”, but quiet and kept close to me. At home, it was another story. Multiple meltdowns a day over seemingly small things were frequent. She had a persistent negative attitude.

She is an interesting child – walked and talked early, knew her alphabet and colors and could count to 100 by age 4. Now, at 4.5, she can identify planets, and she enjoys the placemat I have with the presidents on them. She knows that Stephen Grover Cleveland was our 22nd and 24th President. No she can’t really read his name, but she did keep track of it when she counted the faces. She recalled this fact a week later. She’s incredibly imaginative and recently sang a little song about toilet paper (did I mention she can be so silly?).I’ve posted other things about her in my Growing In Peace post here.

For three years, I’ve struggled with trying to figure her out and how to help her. Things had gotten to the point I needed answers. I took her for a preschool screening to see if they can tell me that something was wrong, or at least that there was nothing wrong and I could at least relax about that. Little did I expect that she wouldn’t participate in the screening. At all. She went where they wanted her to, quietly and obediently. But she said nothing when they asked her.

I was very surprised, and even more surprised when the evaluator told me that this happens rarely, that *most* kids do eventually warm up and start talking. I thought it was just a fluke.

Her reactions to school were very puzzling too. She didn’t talk at school, and came home and her meltdowns and tantrums increased in number and severity for two weeks before things kind of settled down again.

I have 19 type-written pages of narrative of how she behaved at the evaluation, and at the first few weeks of school. When she still wasn’t talking and participating at a month and a half into school, I came in to observe her myself. I came with a notebook and pen and took notes. I’m glad now I did. She held herself rigidly, never smiled, didn’t talk, didn’t sing and dance with the other kids. Her face showed obvious nervous habits (licking her lips was one).

Now at 6 months into school, and still not doing much (for non-verbal communication and some whispering) and after not talking with my mother when she took her to a field trip.

She has friends, and is comfortable speaking freely around them, but in the school setting, and with other people she’s not comfortable with, she just. doesn’t. talk. My mother suggested for the first time to look into selective mutism. Well, at first I was about to ignore my mother’s advice, figuring my mom was just labeling her unjustly and without a real knowledge of it. Until I actually took the time to check what selectively mute meant. In a nutshell, it’s considered an extreme social anxiety and that it acts as a protective mechanism.

What I found left me dumbstruck. I saw my daughter in all the descriptions. All the behavioral problems we’ve encountered make sense in light of this new information. I’ve made the appointment to begin evaluations with her in April. I’m sure I will be posting all about this in future posts.

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14 Responses to The Silence Within….is my daughter a selective mute?

  1. Catana says:

    Things to look into: sensory issues, school and other strange situations may be more input than she can handle. Asperger’s–high intelligence, verbal skills, meltdowns, and selective mutism can all be subsumed under this spectrum disorder. It’s not something to panic about if she does have Asperger’s. I’ve been exploring this for a couple of years, since becoming suspicious about myself. I’ve acknowledged that I do have it, but hardly consider it a death sentence. I’m starting a new blog in which Asperger’s will be one of the topics, may also give it some space on Gifted Minds.

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    If she does have Asperger’s, I’m pretty sure the extensive evaluations she will undergo will help me figure that out. I do know that selective mutism can be linked with Asperger’s (which is a high functioning autism for those reading who don’t know). From what I gather, it is possible to have selective mutism without a comorbid dx of other issues. It can exist all by itself. At any rate, I agree, it’s not a death sentence. While I’m floored to have a name for what she might be experiencing, she has many lovely attributes and is a really fascinating creature.

    If they find out she has selective mutism, and/or other issues, I will be taking one big sigh of relief, it’s been a very slow process to figure out how to best meet her needs. And I will finally have the proper support I have been looking for.

    You’ll have to let me know what that new blog is so that I can read up on it and add it to my blogs!

  3. Sassy says:

    Hi, my best friend sent me your link – my soon to be 12 year old son is a Selective Mute. What you’re describing sounds alot like my Ryan. He’s made progress and school has helped him – although chances are he’ll never be the “life of the party.” He also suffers from sensory & tactile issues (he was diagnosed with his disorders in 2004 after many years of trying to find answers) and he also has cognitive delays and fine/gross motor skill delays. However, he’s a bright boy, often stopped by strangers and told how gorgeous he is and at home, he’s loud, active, opinionated and all that good stuff. If you met him today, he would not talk to you or talk to me in front of you. We’re working on that but his anxieties often prevent him from moving forward. We plug away each day, hopeful that the things we do make a difference in his life. I’m a stranger to you obviously, but if you want to contact me, feel free to do so. As a mom with a special needs child, it’s sometimes lonely when no one around you truly knows what you go through each day. Anyway, I’m certainly not an “expert” or a doctor, but I’ve been reading about Selective Mutism since my son was diagnosed, and went to a seminar on SM back in 2006 with Dr. Angela McHolm, one of the leading authorities in Canada, on the subject. There is still not alot known about SM but hopefully that will change.

  4. Spacemom says:

    Wow, that’s a tough one.

    Most public schools in my area have child psychologists, so you can have someone through the school system to work with.

    Also, you can look into K-1 or 1-2 classes where the child stays with the same teacher for 2 years. This is mostly done for kids that need the extra stability in the classroom.

  5. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Well, the more I look into the matter, the more certain I am that is what she has. I’m really relieved about it, knowing now that my instincts about her are correct. I’m grateful I am catching this early – they say (as with most special needs), the earlier you can work with the child, the better. So I hope we will find this to be true.

    So, your son was 8 when he was diagnosed? I would never have thought to look into this until my mother suggested it. It’s weird, because I spent a lot of time ignoring my mom’s advice, and for once, she really has given me a huge clue that I never would have looked for. I never expected my mom to know about this at all.

    Stranger or not, you know that you take friends where you can find them, especially when there is hardly anyone else who’s even heard of this condition.

    I obviously won’t know for until the evaluation process gets started, but the pediatric neuropsychologist I will be taking her to will also check for other things (to rule them out). She’s quite a wonderful child despite some real difficulties we’ve had. I’m looking forward to seeing what the doctor says.

    They did a special on SM on the U.S. and my sister taped it for me. I have yet to watch it, but it was so strange that the very day I started looking into it, it was being televised that night.
    They say it probably occurs more often than it actually has been diagnosed. Hopefully it will help spread the word about it.

    Believe me, if this turns out to be what I think it is, I’ll be wanting to know of other’s who’ve gone before me and help me know what to expect.

    Thanks so much for commenting. I’m sure I’ll be discussing this topic more in the future. I just can’t decide which blog I want to put it on (I have this one and I have one also at http://growinginpeace.wordpress.com).

    Take care and good luck to you and your son!

    KC

  6. Crystal says:

    I simply need another mom to talk to… My daughter is 5 just diagnosed with Sm.. but we have known for over 2 years or so…We signed her up for a small private montessori school here in Maine…( she attended here 2 mornings previous year)She is having severe separation anxiety from me. Says that she is scared and does not like it there… Gets very upset while there. Dr. Elisa Shipon Blumm is the person we are working with and her recent advice was to give her one more year to build some much needed socializing skills…Also, to learn to be away from me more… I feel that she should be in kindergarten beacause she is so smart and does love to learn and be around other children.. My husband isn’t seeing this matter the same way that I am and I feel that I have no support! Crystal in Portland, Maine

  7. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Crystal – I was like you in thinking that my daughter should be in kindergarten last year, since she was 5 last year and she was advanced but had a late in the year birthday.

    However, because of her SM, I didn’t press the issue. I can assure you that delaying a year may not be so bad. My daughter is now six and in kindergarten. The extra year of preschool was spent getting her familiar with the elementary school she was going to attend.

    Having that extra year to gain confidence really paid off. She had oral reading assessments last week. She scored into the second grade level. She would not have been able to do that last year. They are going to accommodate her by placing her into the highest reading group, so that she’s not stuck learning to read when she is already proficient.

    Now, if your child is indeed advanced (and I speculate many SM kids have advanced intellects), I think a certified Montessori school is much better than a kindergarten, if they allow the child to work ahead. I’m on a message board that has a gifted child forum and many have said a good (certified) Montessori school setting is by far better than a public school kindergarten for an advanced child. I forget which one is more preferable, the AMI or AMS certification but one is better than the other.

    Have you noticed your child having any sensory difficulties? Sounds too loud? Water/sticky stuff on the hands bothers her? Seems in socks troublesome? Gets carsick easily?

    Check out the summary of my daughter’s SM journey above to see what we did.

    There’s also a great “problem solving binder” we used to emotion coach her at home.

    Not always, but many times SM kids are over oversensitive to environmental stimuli. Too “switched on” to the world around them.

    At any rate, I would keep your daughter where she’s at and supplement her education at home.

    I have ideas on my other two blogs,

    The Wonder Years (lots of math ideas)

    The Exploration Station (lots of science experiments)

    And remember, she’s still 5. She’s going to be in school for at least 12 more years (if not 16). She will have plenty of time to be in the grind of traditional school.

    Don’t forget to encourage her creativity and have fun. That’s most important right now. Pushing her through isn’t going to really be in her best interests. If she seems to be very advanced in K and it’s not meeting her needs, then have her IQ tested and then push for a grade skip – but only after the SM has been treated.

  8. Heather says:

    Hi Casey….how about that cup of coffee? As I’ve mentioned, I almost always find something in your blog that it I can relate too, but I guess I didn’t know just how similar our kids are! My oldest is much like you’ve described your middle daughter and then add in the oral aversion of your oldest and you have my son. I knew that your middle daughter had SM, and though I had never read about the topic, I guess I just assumed I knew what it meant based on its name and what you’ve mentioned about your dd on MDC. It wasn’t until this post that I’ve really come to an understanding about SM. Interestingly, my son started preschool last year and at his fall conference his teachers asked me if he ever spoke at home. I was floored, because my son never stops talking at home! It kind of concerned me, but they said it wasn’t to worry about because he only went two days per week and it was still early in the year. And a while later for a speech evaluation the teachers needed to ask him about certain things to give their perspective, and he did indeed speak to them. I came to find out, as I am also this year in his second year of preschool, that if I take him to school early and it is just one or two children plus the teachers, he WILL talk to them. But if there are a bunch of kids there, trying to get their attention, then he doesn’t talk to the teachers. They haven’t expressed any concerns, so I hope he is doing ok when I’m not there, but I will have to ask specifically, as they do not have conferences. I am also interested to hear how your daughter is doing in Kindergarten. My son has a late birthday and will not start until he is 6. He is, so far, very advanced and I really worry about what his future looks like with school. I feel like homeschooling is the best choice, but I do NOT feel up to it myself. So, I wonder about how your daughter is doing in school being one of the older kids and also very bright.

    I just started reading The Explosive Child, have you read that one? -For easily frustrated and chronically inflexible children- That’s my son!

    Thanks again for sharing your heart.

    Heather

  9. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Heather –

    Hi. 🙂

    I’m supposed to be starting on the novel…but I’m procrastinating. As far as how dd is going, she is speaking fully now in K class. She wasn’t able to talk at all to the teachers for the first year and a few months at her preschool, even one on one. Everything was non-verbal signals.

    If you click on the tab above for the summary of her SM journey, you can see how it evolved.

    At the beginning of K, they tested her for reading. She scored at a second grade level, so while she does a lot of things alongside the rest of the class, she gets second grade books to take home and read, and she also gets to do the accelerated reader program with second grade level books (if she wants). She likes the social aspect of the rest of it, so she’s happy. We do things at home to supplement what she needs, so it’s a partial homeschooling thing.

    So far, school is meeting her needs. I send her to an afterschool art class (it’s called Young Rembrandts) that she seems to enjoy. In the summertime, she’ll go to the science summer camp for 2-4 weeks if she wants.

    When it stops meeting her needs, we’ll re-evaluate. I think the thing to do is what and see. You really won’t know until how the school responds to his needs. If they are a progressive school, they will do some differentiation. If it’s enough, he ought to behave okay. If it isn’t, usually it comes out as behavioral problems or an outright “it’s boring” or something along those lines. So far, so good. We’ll see what happens and adjust things as needed.

    As far as the explosive child book goes, I wrote a review of it here:

    https://raisingsmartgirls.wordpress.com/2008/10/28/the-explosive-child/

    So, yeah, I know all about that book.

    What helped was emotion coaching her too.

    I have this on my other blog

    http://growinginpeace.wordpress.com/2008/10/31/kids-problem-solving-binder/

    It helped us so much to have her be able to articulate what she was feeling. We read the binder together a few times each week and was able to discuss events (as in meltdowns or other things) and what contributed to them a few days after they happened. It helped reduce her need to have them when she felt she could talk about what was bothering her.

  10. Tumpa Dea says:

    hi raisingsmartgirls,

    this is tad from india. my son 7 years has selective mutism. i have read your posts. Plz advise me whther treatment given to your child has helped her or not. As we have not started any treatment as of now. But when i understood his problem and discussed with him things started improving though at slow pace. Other than this problem he is quite intelligent and does all his written works quite well. he does not have any sensory problem as such, his fine and gross motor skill abilities are also ok. But he is a bit hyper at home and sometimes outside also though he has not shown any meltdown etc. He has a erratic sleeping cycle.

    Kindly advise and help.

  11. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Hi, Tad.

    I did more than just answer your question, I turned it into a post. Yes, what we did HAD helped my daughter. Please take a look at the newest post for more details.

    https://raisingsmartgirls.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/did-what-we-do-for-my-daughter-help-her-selective-mutism/

    I’m glad your son does not have sensory problems or meltdowns. That helps to not have those issues. Being a bit hyper is kind of typical for boys, and somewhat less typical for girls. My daughter who had the selective mutism can be hyper too.

    There is some new information on that post, so if you’d like to take a look at it, maybe you can find some helpful information about what’s called ‘transitional’ strategies. Please take a look at the link to read more about what those are an if you think it might help your son.

    Best wishes,

    Casey

    • Tumpa Dea says:

      Dear Casey, thank you so much, i am really grateful, plz give me some time to go thru all your posts and revert. As a mother you must be aware how a mother feels about such uncommon problems of her child. Your site is like god’s gift to me.

      I will soon go thru all yur posts in details and come back to you.

      Regards,
      TAD

      • raisingsmartgirls says:

        TAD –

        I know how you feel. When my daughter was first diagnosed, I was so sad, and so frightened, and felt so worried. Take your time going through the posts. There is so much to go through.

        I wrote out my fears, my frustrations, and my worries. For me, it was also a way to keep track of her progress as well as keep track of how things worked for her.

        Also, since we had a limited budget, and she did have mild sensory issues, I wanted to talk about cheaper alternatives to expensive therapy. I don’t know how it is now, but at the time, many insurance plans in the U.S. didn’t cover therapy for sensory processing disorder.

        Best wishes to you and your son. I hope you find some useful information here.

        Casey

      • raisingsmartgirls says:

        Oh, I also noticed their were some broken links, so I have tried to go back and fix them as I come across them.

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