My 5.5 year old daughter who was diagnosed with selective mutism is going to attend kindergarten in the fall. She was diagnosed last year in May.
I wanted to post the things that specifically had a positive impact for my daughter’s anxiety and selective mutism. When we got the diagnosis, we also had a list of recommended therapies to help her. It was a really good plan of action, but when I added it up, I saw that essentially what would happen is that we’d spend a lot of money and time running to therapies.
So, uncertain as to how long she would need therapy and how little my insurance would cover, I decided to find out what my local school system had to offer. This is when we took our evaluation and got my daughter enrolled in the early intervention (special needs) preschool under a communication need at the school she will attend for kindergarten. I was uncertain what they would have in the way of sensory OT, especially when it wasn’t written into her IEP that way.
It turns out that she got some informal sensory OT anyway. She had access to a trampoline, they had messy play and art activities, and also access to the outdoor playground on warmer days.
Fortunately for my daughter, the special needs teacher and staff were really warm and engaging for her (even if I did butt heads with the teacher once), and they just seemed to have a way with her.
At home, I researched. A lot.
Here are some posts or links about what I found:
- Information regarding selective mutism and retained primitive reflexes.
- Books by Sally Goddard (a researcher who studied the role of primitive reflexes in learning and behavior and who was recommended by my daughter’s neuropyschologist for me to read):
- The Well-Balanced Child (summary here)
- Reflexes, Learning and Behavior: A Window into the Child’s Mind : A Non-Invasive Approach to Solving Learning & Behavior Problems.
- Information regarding SPD
Sensory Processing Disorder.com
- Example of a Sensory Diet
- Here’s a list of downloadable handouts and presentations from Dr. Cheng from his practice of child, adolescent and family psychiatry in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Included are some really informative handouts regarding anxiety, selective mutism and sensory processing disorders, which I’ve found to be really helpful in understanding things.
- Also, I gained an understanding of my daughter’s emotional regulation difficulties through reading the Explosive Child book by Dr. Ross Greene.
- I used sensory activities at home too,too, used the park a lot in the warmer months (especially the park adjacent to the elementary school she will attend) and enrolled her in ballet. We invested in a mini trampoline. It triggers the speech and language centers of the brain and it provides strong vestibular and proprioreceptive input.
Creating a Sensory Diet at Home
The ballet took the place of a therapy called feldenkrais, because not only was I uncertain that I could get the insurance to cover it, the nearest place I could do it at was 45 minutes away, gas was up to $4 a gallon back then, and I had to figure out what to do with my youngest child who wasn’t in school yet, and get there and back between the middle child’s preschool times. It just wasn’t going to happen.
- I also bought a Yoga cd set, Yoga for Kids, from Target. It’s about $20 for a 2 disc set (ABC’s and from Silly to Calm), and my daughter does that too.
- We also finally bought a mini-trampoline in early January, and all the kids actually use it. One of the things we found out was that jumping on a trampoline is sensory activating, and it helps to activate the speech centers of the brain. I got that bit of information from the book, the Out of Sync Child Has Fun from Carol Stock Kranowitz.
- And of course, in the warmer months, we’d spend at least 3 times a week at the park. Can’t beat the free sensory therapy there with all the wonderful climbing, swinging and running. Some parks actually had great new items for balance and even zip-lines.
- I also created a Problem Solving Binder for the emotion coaching and my middle daughter really has really liked to see the pictures and read the stories with me. She also likes the book Mad Isn’t Bad. That is a concept that we had to work on a lot. It’s okay for her to be mad, but we had to work on the expression of that anger.
Sometimes I wish I had the time and the money in order to have professionals take care of the details, but in a bigger sense, I’m grateful to have been able to work this out on my own because in addition to saving money, I’ve learned so much by doing things on our own and see first hand that it’s working. Plus, the therapies are not forced and contrived and removed from her natural environment. She gets them as a normal part of her day and they are a part of her play.
At school, she is speaking now in both her early intervention preschool and at her regular preschool. They are also preparing her for the transition into kindergarten, complete with sending her on little errands with the speech therapist in the school so she can become familiar with the building as well as introducing her to the kindergarten teachers so that when it comes time to do the kindergarten developmental screening test next month she will have met the teachers who will screen her.
It’s working. Her confidence is building, and she even has started making headway in public settings. She responded verbally to the waitress when she asked what type of pizza she wanted at my other daughter’s birthday party, and then actually asked to buy a bottle of water at her ballet class last Friday. These are HUGE steps for her. I can’t believe the progress she’s made in a year.
I still haven’t figured out how to keep her from talking non-stop at home. Of course, that’s been the most ironic part of this whole journey. She never runs out of things to say at home. I do worry that in time, she will be the chatterbox at school, and then I’m going to have the opposite problem on my hands. But I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
In my thinking and the neuropsych’s opinion, a lot of the standard approaches for SM (which in and of themselves are good ones) fix the symptoms but does not go to the source of the cause. This is what the neuropsych wanted to make it abundantly clear about. She knew of the techniques used in the field for SM (all the strategies employed for stepwise movement from non-speech to speech and the supplementary strategies of reduction of anxiety) which are all good ones to use WHILE working on the underlying problem – (which is the developmental delay in the limbic system – the retained primitive reflexes), but they aren’t going to the source. She strongly felt, if you catch it early enough, you can actually change the source of the problem, so that once it’s fixed, it’s fixed, and you don’t have the lifelong challenge and you don’t have to adopt a persona just to cope (as has been suggested by some that acting classes can help SM). You can be authentic without fear.
That’s what I feel is happening with my daughter. She is just so much more CONFIDENT than she was last year. That’s why I feel her changes are going to be permanent. If I didn’t really do my research about it, and actually SEE the drastic changes I’ve seen, I wouldn’t have believed it. I was hesitant and doubtful last year when we started this journey, but I am really convinced of it now.