Notes on preschools and IEP accommodation for SM kids.

A short update:  My now 12 year old formerly SM child has 18 lines (18!) of dialogue in the school play she tried out for this year in middle school.  She’s beyond thrilled!  And so is this mama!   As many of you know, have experienced in your own journeys with your SM kids, you don’t know if you’ll EVER see your child relax into who they are enough to shine bright.   It’s a scary, saddening thought.

Show of hands:  How many of you shed tears, felt sick to your stomach for your child, stayed up long hours researching selective mutism?  I bet all of you otherwise you would never be here reading this blog.  🙂

One thing I wanted to address is the preschool issue.  I personally feel the kind of preschool can make or break an SM kid’s introduction to school.
The thing to keep in mind is that selective mutism is an issue of anxiety, of a lot of times due to sensory issues, not of sign of low intelligence.  In fact, many SM kids are very bright, some exceptionally so.  Often, it’s an issue of being too highly “switched on” to stimuli from the environment that the SM kids get so overwhelmed that the only way to cope is by shutting down.
My daughter had attended two years of preschool.  And boy, was that ever an interesting experiment.  She progressed fast in the special needs preschool, but languished in the regular community preschool.
She attended the regular community preschool for 2 days a week the first year of preschool.  I decided to request an in-class visit and video and take notes of what was going on in the classroom and how she was reacting to it so I could show my husband and her pediatric neuropsychologist we were going to use.  The school was very open and accommodating of my request, thankfully.
I noticed that my SM child was in a room full of typical preschool that didn’t have good self-control (you know, because they are like 3 and 4 year olds doing what 3 and 4 year olds do).  She was in a class of ten, but in a large room separated by only partitions.  You could still hear what was going on in the other classes.  Sometimes they’d open up the partition and all 30 kids would be together in the large space.
I noticed that that just added to the over-stimulation.  I think the noise bothered her a lot.  My daughter couldn’t really figure out why other preschoolers wouldn’t sit in their seats quietly and pay attention.   Sometimes they just got right in her face too…she didn’t like that.  One boy was just inches from her face and kept saying her name (and she kept turning her head away, unable to tell him to back away).  He finally gave up trying to talk to her, thankfully.  It was a language based classroom of course, and offered pretty standard one-size-fits-all curriculum.
Her second year of preschool, she was in the regular class 3 mornings a week as well as a special needs preschool 2 mornings a week the first semester that was inside the building her elementary school was, something I felt was immensely helpful.  The second semester she had an additional 2 afternoons a week at the special needs classroom, which had more 4 year olds in attendance, too.  A little bit more maturity and most of them were on their second year there so they knew the routines.
I was fortunate that I could advocate for her and with the pediatric neuropsych’s diagnosis of SM in hand, and a Preschool Language testing that indicated a 17 point difference in her receptive versus expressive language, and with other testing, like the McCarthy Scales of Children’s abilities, we knew she had intellectual talent along with her selective mutism, we were able to enroll her in the special needs preschool class and get speech therapy services.  

My concern for her was three-fold:  That she be able to 1) convey herself verbally, particularly to be able to demonstrate her ability to read/comprehend at the appropriate level for her and participate in classroom activities, 2) express her thoughts and feelings and 3) deal with others when they cross her personal boundaries (the former year, she had some classmates get into her face, touch and bother her and she had no way to say stop it, or even tell the teacher – she only told me after she came home and fell apart first).

For my part, I spent a lot of time after school with my daughter (and her sisters), letting them play at the park attached to school, attending all special activities at the school, and showing her that school was a safe and fun place to learn.  We also did a lot of sensory based activities at home, because her pediatric neuropsychologist believed her anxiety would be reduced if we were to address the sensory issues she had, and I just did not have the money to spend on formal SPD therapy.

The idea was to help her feel safe and happy and ReLaXeD at the school.

In the special needs preschool, the focus for my child was both kindergarten readiness AND preparation to get her used to the school, the teachers, and the staff.  This classroom had special needs kids of all kinds as well as 4 regular students who acted as ‘peer mentors’.  They were a language-based preschool and ALSO had LOTS of sensory activities, including a trampoline which is a godsend.  It helps to activate the speech centers of the brain (you can read about this in The Out of Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Integration Dysfunction by Carol Stock Kranowitz).  A hop-ball works too (the inflatable ball with a handle).   Something about bouncing makes kids laugh, relax and helps them feel chatty.  I don’t exactly know why it helps.  It just does.

My daughter had mild sensory integration issues (mostly related to hearing and vestibular perception) and so both at home and in preschool, she was exposed to sensory-based activities.  I got her outside in the park A LOT.  Climbing, swinging on the tire swing, balancing on things were so helpful.

Intellectually, I don’t think she was challenged enough in the regular preschool either, but her special needs preschool teacher saw her abilities and found some more challenging things she could do. Completely on her own, she gave my daughter the Bracken School Readiness test, a test “that is currently used in admittance to the New York City Gifted and Talented Program, as well as other G&T programs and private schools around the country.” [].

She scored exceptionally high on that test.

Her preschool goals for her IEP for preschool were as follows:

– to label a variety of nouns and verbs

– to express want and needs/requests to others
– demonstrate protest or denial (no I don’t want to)
– to call her teacher and peers in class by name
– to make comments/name items to show others
– to use words to express her feelings (mad, sad, scared, happy)
– to participate in spoken conversation for 2 to 3 turns that is reported and initiated by the adult
– to reciprocate in spoken conversation with adults and peers on a variety of topics.


[As a side note: because she didn’t have the same accommodations in the community preschool, and NO trampoline, she didn’t progress there much at all.  At least until I was able to remind the special needs teacher she was going to spend some time with my daughter in the regular classroom and talk to that teacher about what was working for her in the special needs classroom.  In my estimation…accommodations matter a GREAT deal].

During the second semester at preschool, the speech teacher went to the American Speech and Language Association’s seminar on selective mutism and realized right away one thing that they could start doing that would help.  The speech teacher would take my daughter on errands around the school (the office, the nurse, etc) where she would then 1) get to know the school building and the adults on staff (and they would get to know her too) and 2) interact with the staff.  The speech teacher would assist her at first, then she’d encourage my daughter to speak.

Her kindergarten goals

– Begins conversation
– Continues conversation
– Ends conversations
– Interacts with a variety of peers
– Participates willingly in new situations
– Shares information and ideas to describe, explain, predict
– Contributes to conversation by listening and responding
– Uses spoken language for a variety of purposes and to express ideas, feelings and needs.

She had this IEP from preschool through most of her kindergarten year.
In February of her kindergarten year, they did a final assessment of her and she met her goals.  The final comment about it was this:Her “classroom teacher reports that she now communicates with her peers and adults.  She participates willingly in new situations and shares information and ideas in the classroom setting.  Her expressive skills have  improved to the point that they no longer cause any educational handicap.”

And she then no longer needed her IEP.  And I was beyond the moon with joy.
This entry was posted in anxiety, gifted children, gifted support, highly sensitive child, IEP for SM kids, selective mutism, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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