Selective Mutism

Selective Mutism in the Classroom

For children that may not have been in unfamiliar surroundings before they began school, the first signs of selective mutism may appear when the child begins school. A talkative outgoing child at home may have difficulties in the classroom if he or she has this disorder. When the teacher mentions the quiet withdrawn child in his or her classroom that doesn't speak, you will not recognize that it is your child. Selective Mutism is a disorder in which in unfamiliar surrounding, a person will not talk... will not speak. This disorder has been difficult to diagnose and has been categorized as an autistic disorder, but more recently has become categorized as an anxiety disorder. Sadly it often is not diagnosed accurately.

A child who has this disorder will have teachers and others in the classroom describe them as being the following:

  • Defiant
  • Stubborn
  • Disobedient
  • Stupid
  • Deaf
  • Mute
  • Autistic

All of the above would be inaccurate because often cooperative, respectful, obedient, smart children will not be able to speak while in the classroom, no matter what a teacher tries to do or what a parent promises as a reward. The reason is that the anxiety must be addressed first. In fact, the more pressure a child feels to speak, the more anxious the child will feel, and the less likely the child will speak in the classroom. Proper training and support for teachers and parents will be needed for the child to be able to speak.

Once a child is diagnosed with Selective Mutism, it will be easier to make sure that the child receives the appropriate support in the classroom and will be able to successfully attend school. The most important thing to remember is that the child with Selective Mutism does not have behavior problems and does not need to be punished. A teacher should accept that he or she cannot force or make a child speak. There are many other things that can be implemented in the classroom to reduce the anxiety for the child.

Here are some of the things that can be done in the classroom to reduce the anxiety in the environment for the child with Selective Mutism:

  • Seat the child to the sides of the classroom
  • Avoid and limit eye contact at the beginning
  • Provide alternative ways to communicate (nodding, cards, paper and pencil)
  • Encourage an outgoing child to be his or her buddy
  • Do not overly respond when a child does or does not speak
  • Allow the child to come early or stay late (with a parent if it helps) when the classroom is not full
  • Do not point out disorder when others interact with the child

Communicating with the parents, counselors, therapists, and others involved with the child who has Selective Mutism, will help with coming up with other strategies to provide a child with a positive and successful learning experience.