Opening Closed Doors – Consultant for Selective Mutism

Even though my daughter has recovered from selective mutism, I still take an interest and search for useful websites to add to my resources for other parents.  I still find it my desire to provide up-to-date resources and hope for parents of children who struggle with selective mutism.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better website in dealing with the behaviors of selective mutism and the insightful understanding to go along with them than I have at Opening Closed Doors.

Mrs. Cohen is “a social skills, self development and selective mute specialist who has successfully developed many unique methods.”

Some very interesting and helpful blog posts.

Selective mute: the teacher’s attitude

These children are dying for someone to speak to them! Speak to them constantly, just don’t ask questions. Use words like, ‘I noticed…’ or ‘I was wondering…’ instead. ‘I noticed that you got a new haircut. I wonder who gave it to you. It looks so professional.’ ‘I noticed that you colored all the flowers red. I wonder what color you will make the house.

Morris: Ultra Wild At Home

A smart, talented child who is not showing his abilities in front of his peers must be feeling frustrated to the nth degree. Understand his behavior in terms of a spring; if a spring is pushed down and pushed down some more, when it is finally released, it will jump very high.

When release hour comes, when he finally comes home from school, all that unused energy has to go somewhere, and he is like a spring suddenly let go. Sometimes these children become very wild, as in your case; sometimes they cannot stop talking and chatter away without a stop. The former is typical behavior for boys, the latter, for girls.

High school and the selective mute

As a parent, however, it is imperative to turn heaven and earth over in order to help your daughter. Including kindergarten, she has already spent at least 9 years not speaking in school! Do you realize what this means? If she is like most selective mutes, she is smart, capable, and talented, with tons of potential waiting to burst forth from her. Yet, she sits by, day after relentless day, not being able to show her abilities. Without friends, she probably has no one to sit with at lunch time, no one to walk to classes with, no one to shmooze with on the bus, no one to play with at recess time, no one to chum around with. She is probably excluded from parties, games, and performances. With no one paying attention to her, no one calling on her in class, no one including her in anything, she must feel totally invisible – how heart rending! Her self- esteem must be at ground zero by now, and she must be extremely angry at the system for not having helped her till now. Her very life blood has been snuffed out of her.

Which school is best for a selective mute?

For the preschool or kindergartner, rather than looking for an experienced teacher with a big class,

look for the teaching style of the teacher, rather than how experienced the teacher is. If everything could be perfect, you would be looking for a teacher who is flexible, fun loving and not so structured, as opposed to a strict disciplinarian who tries to pack in as much learning as possible.

How to explain the older child’s selective mutism to a teacher or principal, don’t use the words ‘shy’, ‘timid’ or ‘selectively mute’ to describe your child.

Always start out with your [child’s] strong qualities: “She is an excellent student, she is a fine sincere girl who will never be a motivational problem or a discipline problem. She is a sensitive person with a heart of gold, willing to help anyone in need.” This usually describes most selective mutes, and add any other strong points to make your case. Then you may say, “She has a hard time opening up in new situations and may shut down in an interview. She is usually a deep person who can speak seriously and well once she gets comfortable with a person.”

The older selective mute: is there hope?

The issues that usually have to be addressed are the following:

Understanding and building self-esteem

Learning to be assertive

Learning how to find, make and keep meaningful friends

Communication skills

Social skills

Learning to take 100% responsibility for their life.

In addition to offering a 4-disc set on selective mutism, you can contact her for phone consultations.  Please spread the word on this compassionate resource.

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This entry was posted in anxiety, gifted support, highly sensitive child, selective mutism, social anxiety. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Opening Closed Doors – Consultant for Selective Mutism

  1. Liz says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. My almost 4 year old is starting her 2nd year of preschool in a few weeks. She only spoke a few times (but only to the teacher) her first year. She is a HSC as well. I plan to share the info from your site with her teacher.
    I was wondering if you have any advice from your experience with your child that would be helpful at this age (almost 4)?
    Thanks again for your blog!!!
    Liz

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    You’re welcome, Liz.

    Highly sensitive children can be (but not always) highly draining…at any age. 🙂 Get enough rest and TLC for yourself.

    Consider H.A.L.T – is the child hungry, angry, lonely or tired – and work on that. Children’s stomachs are small, smaller meals more frequently are better. Complex carbs are better than simple carbs. Protein slows down digestion of carbs, so if your daughter has a high metabolism always couple the carbs with protein (apples and yogurt or peanut butter, real cheese with crackers, etc). Some kids burn up calories faster than others. Anxious kids do even more so, I think.

    My SM daughter also has a high metabolism…so feeding her frequently helps with anxiety and frustration and meltdowns (still to this day. She’s 7.5 now).

    Gentle movement activities relax children and help physical development – yoga for kids (Gaiam makes a great 2 disc set From Silly to Calm and Yoga ABC’s dvd set you can get from either Amazon or Target http://www.amazon.com/Gaiam-Kids-Yogakids-Fun-Collection/dp/B000AYELBK/ref=pd_cp_mov_3 ).

    sensory activities
    https://raisingsmartgirls.wordpress.com/2008/11/14/inexpensive-purchases-for-kids-sensory-diet-at-home/

    montessori sensory and practical life activities are a fun way to help the child master her world. there are things she can do at home.

    http://growinginpeace.wordpress.com/our-montessori-activities/+

    Above all remember to have fun WITH your child. These years DO go by so fast.

  3. Liz says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I was viewing your site mainly thru my iPhone and missed lots of valuable info. Thanks for these links and taking the time to point me there.
    You make a great point about anxiety and metabolism that I hadn’t thought of – my daughter eats small meals all day and is a peanut with s fast metabolism like your daughter. Im getting ready for the school year and loading up on info and strategies to share with her teacher.
    Many thanks again,

    Liz

  4. raisingsmartgirls says:

    I’m glad I could be of help.

    Best Wishes,

    Casey

  5. Julie says:

    Hi Casey,
    My 5 year old has SM and I was interested in a possible appt. with Mrs. Cohen. Did you speak with her and get counsel directly or just from her website?
    Also, I was so relieved to read that your daughter recovered from SM. Since just finding out the diagnosis a few weeks ago, I am so concerned with how long it will take for my daughter to begin speaking to friends. How long did it take your daughter?

    Thanks for all your posts and inspiration!
    Big Hug,
    Julie

  6. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Julie

    Thanks for stopping by. No, I did not speak with Mrs. Cohen directly. Once in a while, I do a search on selective mutism, to see what’s new in the field. I came across her blog and was pleased to see some things I had suspected verified by someone else’s experiences.

    I bet if you contacted her through her website, she might be able to work something out with you.

    For my daughter, it took about 18 months for full speech in all settings. She had been seen whispering to a friend within one of her classes before then. I made sure to make one-on-one playdates with that child so that my daughter felt connected to someone outside the school setting.

    Each child is unique, so their developmental path will be too. However, there are things that can be done to help. If you are interested, I’ll send you some information regarding things her teachers can do to help.

    Let me know and I’ll forward them on to you.

    • Liz says:

      Casey,
      I’m glad I get an email when there are new comments in this section!! If you could please share with me too info that you have regarding things her teacher can do to help, I would be most grateful!!
      My four year old has been in school for about 5 weeks and loves it, seems very happy there, participates in most activities, but still will not say a word. She’s mastered nodding and communicating without words while at school (did the same last year, but was not as comfortable as she is the year in the school setting). At home she’s a chatterbox and very very happy. Any info would be fabulous to have!
      Thanks again for all you do 🙂
      Liz

    • Julie says:

      Casey,
      I’d love the info. on things her teacher can do to help. Thank you so much! I also have been following Jonathan Berent’s social anxiety website, as he deals with a lot of selectively mute cases.
      Sorry I didn’t respond right away, it didn’t email me that you responded, guess I need to check that box this time.

      ~Julie

  7. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Liz –

    I sent you the information just now.

    Your child’s experience sounds very much like my daughter. At home she is a chatterbox.

    I’m glad you stopped by.

    And I do what I do because I’ve been where all the other parents are…a little lost, a little afraid and a little worried for my child.

  8. Amy says:

    I just wanted to share my wonderful news…..My son has completely overcome Selective Mutism!! It started at age 3 but we did not find out about SM until Kindergarten at age 5 when he wouldn’t speak outside the home. It has been a long, exausting, and lonely road, but the end result was worth it. This year (2nd grade) is when he fully broke free. I keep waiting for a situation to happen where he doesn’t talk…but there aren’t any. It seems that our nightmare is finally over. In fact, he has a singing solo in his Thanksgiving Play at school, which he assures me that he wants to do. It helped me over the last 3 years to hear stories where the child recovered completely, as this gave me hope.

    By the way, this didn’t “just happen” and he didn’t “just grow out of it”. We have been working with many professionals and have spent many long hours working with him.

    So, I say to all those still suffering from this….don’t give up because it can be overcome.

    Thanks
    Amy

    • Julie says:

      Hi Amy,
      So exciting to hear your son have recovered! That’s awesome! I am just beginning the journey with finding out 2 months ago when my daughter entered kindergarten.
      Can you share some top things you found helpful for your son? Did he do OT work for sensory processing? Were there changes you made at home or school? Did you use a trampoline at home? Any advice would be so appreciated. Thank you!

      Take care,
      Julie
      bjshiposh at gmail dot com

  9. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Amy –

    I’m so glad to hear it.

    And yes, I know exactly the worry that it will return. That something will happen to cause a regression. But my daughter’s hasn’t returned. Now, granted, she might get garden variety stage fright some time in her life again. But it won’t be in ordinary situations that other people take for granted.

    School was the first breakthrough…but it took a long while before she could give her order for a meal at a restaurant by herself. And now she does it all the time.

    It IS a very lonely road, very exhausting, very discouraging at first. We just want our children to succeed, and communication is the first step. It’s so hard to see our kids struggle with something that is otherwise so taken for granted. And it’s a bit confusing when they can speak in some places, but not in others.

    Oh, and yeah, parents are the first to be blamed for any atypical behavior. I’ve been told (by family) that I must have been coddling…or too hard…or too high strung and THAT”s the reason my child wouldn’t talk. Um…nope. Had no problems talking with us, with my husband’s mother and Aunt. Refused to talk to my mother and sisters and at school.

    So wonderful to hear positive stories.

    Best of luck to your son.

    Casey

  10. Morah says:

    I am a pre-k teacher and had a student a few years ago who had selective mutism. She didn’t say a single word the whole year she was in the three-year-old class (year before pre-k) and then when she got to my class she continued the same pattern. Nothing the parents or I tried would work so I started doing a lot of research and I found Mrs. Cohen and the ‘opening closed doors program’, which Casey recommends above. I listened to the teacher CD’s a few times and the parents listened to the parent CD as well and then we began to follow the steps. Mrs. Cohen says the child should be speaking in the classroom within three weeks if you follow her advice exactly. It was like a miracle. One and a half weeks in, this little girl was saying one or two words and doing a lot of ‘silly voice’ talking and speaking in gibberish, then after a couple days of that, she really started talking. I get teary when I remember it. She is such an incredible kid and it was beyond moving to see the way she was finally able to be herself outside of her home. Her parents said that within a couple of weeks of her talking at school it transferred outside of the classroom as well – she could ask the bank teller for a lollipop, she spoke up in dance class for the first time ever, she was able to say her name and her favorite animal in front of a huge group of strangers at kindergarten orientation………… Just amazing. One of the most key parts of the program is that you (the teacher) has to create a classroom environment that requires zero speaking from the kids in order to be involved and all pressure needed to be removed. That was a big challenge and my co-teacher and I spent hours planning the first week so that our little student could fully participate in every aspect of the day without talking and we also picked all of her favorite activities to do during the week so she would be very relaxed and happy. Only when there was no pressure at all for a good number of days were we to introduce an activity that required a one word answer from her. Sure enough, she said her first word. It was definitely one of my most joy-filled moments ever 🙂 I highly recommend this program.

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