Dealing with selective mutism in the classroom can be very difficult and frustrating for teachers. After all, sometimes it seems that a child with selective mutism is merely acting up by not speaking or participating; and, also, it can be hard to judge how much the child has learned when he or she will not read aloud, etc.
Selective mutism is usually a symptom of an anxiety disorder, and the full impact of this disorder is usually not manifested until the child starts school. It is most often in the classroom where the effects of selective mutism are most seriously experienced. Therefore, it is most often the teacher who must deal with, learn to cope with, and fight against this disorder.
Fortunately, there are things that teachers can do to help deal with selective mutism in the classroom. Here are some tips:
· The teacher is quite often center of the most intense symptoms of the child. Be patient. Understand that there is a whole other child that you can get to know beneath the shell of selective mutism.
· Realize that as a teacher, you are a most integral part of helping students combat their selective mutism. Be understanding. Realize that the symptoms of selective mutism are not intentional, and you therefore should not get frustrated or angry.
· If you suspect selective mutism, refer both the child and the parents to a health practitioner or a psychologist. Together, they can help come up with a behaviorally based treatment plan. This is the most effective approach to treating selective mutism.
· Work alongside with a speech-language pathologist (SLP). In fact, you (the teacher), the parents, the child, the psychotherapist, and the SLP are all important parts of the treatment team. Coordinate your actions and work together.
· Do not try to force the child to speak. Of course, it is alright to gently encourage the child to speak.
· Reward and praise the child for speaking and for participating in the classroom. Rewarding the child will make him or her feel like a part of the classroom, but more independent at the same time. It can help slowly crack the shell of anxiety.
· A child with selective mutism is best suited to routine and structure.
· Keep a predictable structure and make sure that you clearly explain classroom activities. Doing these things will help reduce the unknown and give the child a feeling of structure.
· Try to a avoid sudden schedule changes. If you are planning a change in schedule or a new activity, give the children a preview of the expected change.
· Although a child with selective mutism may not jump right into an activity, he or she might after a little while. It is easier for him or to join once he or she has observed the other children and knows what to do. Help the child get engaged in the activity, and then slowly fade away as he or she becomes more confident.
Assessment of the development and skills of a child with selective mutism can be very difficult for the teacher. After all, it is hard to judge how well a child can read if the child will not read out loud.
· Realize that just because you have seen no signs of the child’s ability, it does not meant that he or she is does not understand.
· Talk with an SLP to learn about different methods of assessment of a child’s reading abilities.
· Some children will point to letters or engage in other nonverbal assessment.
· See if the child will allow his or her parents to videotape his or her reading performance at home.