As educators, we are always seeing different characteristics through all of our students, but one that is not quite as common is selective mutism. Selective Mutism is identified as a complex childhood anxiety disorder that is characterized by a child’s inability to speak and communicate effectively, mostly during social situations such as at school.
These children are usually seen being able to speak during situations where they feel more comfortable, relaxed and safe. So how do we make those children feel safe and relaxed at school?
Suggestions for Working with a Child with Selective Mutism
Find your child’s preferred items, activities, snack, games, etc. and use that to foster communication in requesting things they may want. This will help them feel comfortable communicating with you and/or the other adults they interact with.
Give Them Their Space
Sometimes, kids just need time and space to start feeling comfortable, especially if it is a new environment. Hopefully, you will slowly see participation through body language and gestures, then working their way to using their verbal communication skills. This will be a slow but steady process.
Never Assume They Won’t Talk
Continue to communicate with them just as you would with all of our other students. Try different strategies – picture cues (PECS), AAC devices, sign language, etc. Foster the communication in any way that you can.
Build A Relationship
Build a relationship with that student. You are who they see more often than anyone else in their lives. You are going to be their safe space, the person they are familiar with and comfortable with at school. If they don’t feel like they can open up to you, then they won’t feel comfortable opening up to anyone else.
When They Do Speak
When your students do finally use their verbal language, be supportive, but don’t draw attention to it. You don’t want to embarrass them and make them retreat back into an environment where they don’t feel safe to communicate.
Have you ever worked with a student with selective mutism? If you have, what are some suggestions you have for successful communication? Let us know in the comments below!