If you personally know a child with selective mutism (where they are unable to speak in certain social environments like school), you might also be aware that they often NEVER know when to stop talking at home.
When my husband asked my 5 year old last night, “can you even stop talking for more than 2 minutes?” (which is totally counterproductive to tell someone who has selective mutism) she actually tried very, very hard to stop. She lasted about 30 seconds before she exhaled and said, “I just can’t do it dad”.
To which he laughed uproariously and which, to the sensitive soul that is my child, embarrassed her supremely and hurt her tender feelings that he would laugh at her difficulties. She then shrieked and ran from the room crying.
While I watched the exchange, it really occurred to me how hurt my daughter was. I put myself in her position and I could sense why she was hurt by the laughter. She tried, to the best of her ability, to contain her chatter, and she admittedly couldn’t do it, but then got laughed at for it.
My husband didn’t mean to, he knows better. He just forgets that she can’t laugh at herself. But then again, I remember long ago in my childhood, I couldn’t either. I was easily hurt by others’ opinions of me.
But, my middle child is smart and creative and sensitive and imaginative and a chatterbox at home. It is who she is.
She is making great strides in school now. She is fully speaking at both of her schools – the special needs preschool and her community preschool.
It took hardly any time at all to adjust to the special needs preschool. I’m not sure how that happened, but something just clicked for her. During the first 4 school sessions, she was speaking after 45 minutes of class time, then on the 5th school session, she started speaking when she left the car as the teacher aide took her out of the car and she never has reverted to non-speaking. Her community preschool took longer though. After 2 months, she was still speaking in whispers to the teacher and once or twice to a friend she made.
That changed however, when I pointed out to the special needs teacher during the parent-teacher conference that I felt the reason she’s not progressing at the community preschool is that no one had even made the attempt to help them out, as it was stated in her IEP as part of her speech therapy. Someone from the S/N preschool was supposed to at the very least consult and give them ideas. Not even 1 phone call was made to establish communication.
After I was made to feel really crappy during the conference by the teacher, I wrote a long letter to the teacher explaining that she had 2 weeks to address what I felt was unprofessional treatment and also neglect on their part of the IEP. I told her I was taking diligent records of any and all future conversations. You can read the back story here.
The SLP taking care of my daughter’s speech progress was very apologetic when she realized she missed the “community consultation” portion of the IEP.
The very next day, the special needs teacher made an unexpected visit at the community preschool, and stayed the entire 2 hours of class time to assist my daughter. I firmly believe, because she made the visit, my daughter was not only able to make friends with her classmate, for the first time in 2 months, that it was the key to opening the door for my daughter to speak in that setting. Her anxiety seemed to dissolve and from what I understand, now almost 2 months later, she has not regressed.
Also, the SLP’s supervisor called me up and told me that she attended a conference on selective mutism. I was thrilled to hear that she had some new understanding and strategies to help my daughter out.
My daughter also now goes two more afternoons to the special needs preschool, in order to prepare her for transition into kindergarten. She is being challenged even more to extend herself. The class is larger and they have more of a kindergarten preparation curriculum. They send her on errands around the school, and bring in new faces to meet. They want her to be familiar with the people she will be in contact with when she has to move around the school. In March, she will be have to be screened for kindergarten, and she needs to be familiar with the testers before she will be comfortable enough to give the required performance.
Also in March, we will be meeting with the IEP team to evaluate her progress and get her ready for transition into kindergarten. For once, I am more confident that things aren’t as dismal as I once thought it might be.