Beyond shyness - pay attention

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by jonb, Aug 21, 2007.

  1. jonb

    jonb New Member

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    Aug 21, 2007

    That new schooler you’ve pegged as being “just shy” because he or she does not talk, or seems very uncomfortable when focused upon, may actually have a social phobia called “selective mutism”. As the child’s teacher, you are in the critical position of making an objective assessment. Many parents may not see the performance/social anxiety driven behavior at home, so will be confused by your assessment. In fact, many parents will believe it’s just a school problem, since the child is “normal” at home.

    Selective mutism can be considered an “addiction to the avoidance of speaking” or a speaking phobia. The child can speak, but does not do so in specific venues or to specific people. It is not a speech disorder. It is an anxiety disorder. A typical scenario in elementary school is that other children start talking on behalf of the selectively mute student. By junior high school, the selectively mute student is identified by peers as being weird; social isolation and a myriad of problems are present at this stage of development.

    The biggest mistake is to believe that the selectively mute child is simply “shy” and will grow out of the problem! The reality is that in most cases, the anxiety worsens over time as it insidiously works its way into the personality - creating avoidant and dependent characteristics.

    Here are three action points for teachers:

    1. Notify the school counselor and parents as early as possible about your perceptions. Selectively mute children never have the “initiative” to overcome selective mutism independently. The earlier attention is given, the more the chance for success.

    2. Follow up with parents. Encourage them to EDUCATE themselves about the condition - there are self help programs, books, and treatment available.

    3. Do not write off the problem, assuming the child will grow out of it. This will not happen! Selective mutism is an extreme social phobia, although it occurs in different degrees. Your intervention now may save the child years of social maladjustment and suffering.
     
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  3. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    Aug 21, 2007

    Welcome to AtoZ, jonb. We had a child with selective mutism for two years. She also pulled out clumps of hair. She eventually had to leave school to get intensive treatment.

    Do you have experience with this syndrome? Are you a teacher or school counselor? Psychologist?
     
  4. moonbeamsinajar

    moonbeamsinajar Habitué

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    Aug 21, 2007

    I had a child in my classroom for the past two years who was a selective mute. He was challenging to work with.
     
  5. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Aug 21, 2007

    My son was painfully shy, did not talk at school (or in front of people he did not know well) until the end of grade 2. Had we gone the "professional" route he may have been identified as selectively mute. He had a compassionate kindergarten teacher who allowed him to "be", while still having high expectations. By the end of the year, he would whisper to her. His grade 1 teacher wrote him off early in the year as being disturbed--she never heard his voice. His grade 2 teacher accepted him as being a very intelligent student with much to offer, and she found ways for him to contribute without having to speak in front of others. We sought intervention towards the end of the year from the speech/language pathologist who came in and worked with him with a small group of friends, playing games. Her focus was on getting him comfortable talking to his friends (which he did at recess and outside of school) in a school setting. He had his grade 2 teacher again in grade 3 and he blossomed under her caring and accepting attitude. He is now going into grade 12, and, while he is still fairly shy, he is a well-adjusted, extremely successful kid. I fully recognize how difficult and frustrating it was to teach him in those early years, and I will be eternally grateful to those teachers who looked inside him and saw him for his potential.
     
  6. patti2

    patti2 Cohort

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    Aug 21, 2007

    My son had selective mutism and it was very painful until we got him diagnosed-he went through pre-school for 2 years because I just thought he was shy. He went was put on anti-anxiety meds and went to therapy. Within 4 months over the summer, he was talking normally! The very best route is to seek out professional help...IT IS REAL and it is so frightening for the child to not be able to speak up for himself.
     
  7. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Aug 22, 2007

    I guess I should add the addendum that my son did participate in all areas of the program and showed no signs of anxiety, other than not talking in the classroom. He would talk with his friends in the halls and when playing outside at recess. Once he became comfortable with accepting teachers, he would whisper to them. Had he shown other signs of anxiety, or had different teachers, I certainly would have gone a different route. I have worked with students with anxiety disorders and recognize how debilitating they can be.
     
  8. MissFroggy

    MissFroggy Aficionado

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    Aug 22, 2007

    There is a boy who had been a selective mute before he was in my class. (It was somewhat resolved about halfway through the previous year.) He is on anxiety meds now and doesn't have a problem. He even will do reader's theatre! We did some short plays in front of the school and he did really well, but was anxious about the memorizing, so we put his lines on an index card. He still has some anxiety about other things at school.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2007
  9. Annie227

    Annie227 Companion

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    Aug 22, 2007

    I worked with a little girl with selective mutism. She was wonderful! Incredibly bright (she was tested at the end of last year for Gifted & Talented)! Her first school said she was "defiant" and put her on home study for all of K. In 1st they sent her to my school. We slowly worked her into a regular class full day - she eventually started to participate using non-verbal signs and writing. Last year she even gave an oral presentation in class (very, very quietly however). She eventually was able to start playing with kids on the playground, use the restroom and eat in the cafeteria (it took about a year to get her comfortable with these things).

    I always try to talk to teachers about the condition and make sure they understand that Selective Mutism does NOT mean she selects not to speak - that it means there are selective situations where she cannot speak. It is an anxiety disorder and not defiance!
     
  10. patti2

    patti2 Cohort

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    Aug 22, 2007

    yeah-I was told my little boy was autistic-the pre-K teachers wouldn't believe he would talk at home. They were always very sweet to him, but kind of treated me like a mom in denial. I was ticked and once I researched and found a name for it I took it to them and they totally agreed with the SM. I just tell everyone that his fear to speak was like having a fear of heights and everyone else is just walking around the top edge of a high rise all day like it is nothing. My son is in the gifted program now and a total squirrely boy at school!!!
     
  11. Pattie

    Pattie Companion

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    Aug 23, 2007

    I had a student last year that totally fits those descriptions. I felt so sorry for him. He would whisper if he spoke at all and when we had parent teacher he would not answer his parents at all. I loved him though and he was very bright. He was in the top 3 spelling bee students even though it was totally painful for him and he took forever to spell the words. I feel like he progressed in my classroom but I did not understand. He would get asthma attacks a lot too. I had even wondered if his parents were abusive or something he was so painfully shy. Then I met them both and they were wonderful people, and his sibling was a wildcat! Go figure. Thank you for posting all of this good information for us. I have been enlightened! :thanks:
     
  12. Annie227

    Annie227 Companion

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    Aug 23, 2007

    That reminds me of another misconception I have found about Selective Mutism - it is NOT a result of trauma or abuse. I don't think they have found a cause yet, but it is different than mutism that occurs after a traumatic event (that would typically lead to complete mutism).
     
  13. patti2

    patti2 Cohort

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    Aug 23, 2007

    Pattie-those asthma attacks were probably panic attacks. Not only did I have a son with SM, but an older daughter as well. She wasn't as bad though and came out of it on her own at the beg. of 1st grade....but I didn't understand her social anxieties were still there. It blew up in 4th grade into full blown panic attacks-she couldn't catch her breath and paced and sweated. She would say she couldn't breathe and that something was stuck in her throat. They were so frightening! But-she could never tell me what was causing her to behave that way. Afterwards she would just say she felt really hot all of a sudden. I guess they just wash over you. With my son, I kept trying to get him comfy enough with someone to speak. But-his wonderful counselor said that he should begin with a stranger (store or restaurant clerk) that he would only be seeing for a few min. and then never again. JUST ONE WORD. It worked-he was DYING to do it because she told him what he had was real and other people had it to and that is what they did to get better. She just kept upping his goals until he eventually talked to his child psychologist (med. giver!!!) for the first time and he knew he would have to see her again. I cried the whole way home!!!!

    I wonder how many children we deal with all of the time that have things going on that we just don't understand. I think back to several kids who seemed "off" or "weired" and wonder if there were something I should have done.
     
  14. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Aug 23, 2007

    Thanks for the tips, JonB. I noticed that this was your first post. This must be an important issue for you to have it be your 'intro' to the forums. Please don't assume though that teachers are uninformed or not objective...Most professional educators would seek out further information from parents and guidance when we have concerns about a child. In any case, thanks for sharing.

    By the way, JonB is a licensed therapist specializing in social anxiety. His website is: http://www.social-anxiety.com so his post while informative does come from that 'angle'...

    I am the kind of educator that welcomes learning new information that can help me help my kids so I do find the discussion interesting and informative. I just don't like the pedantic feeling of being lectured to, being told to 'pay attention' or being told that teachers make mistakes, are not objective, uninformed or assume things about kids. Sure, we all make mistakes and hopefully learn from them- but please don't make your first post in a forum where most posters are PROFESSIONAL be one in which you yourself make assumptions about educators...
     
  15. [gloworm]

    [gloworm] Rookie

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    Aug 23, 2007

    Sorry, long!

    My nephew has been diagnosed with this. He is a very bright boy, and talks our heads off in the family, but he will not speak at school at all. Even in his home, he will speak to people (friends, teachers, admin. etc.) only if he first met them outside of school. He has found ways to communicate at school without speaking (gestures, etc.)

    He has mostly had very supportive teachers/schools. But his second teacher threatened retention if he didn't start speaking, claiming she couldn't adequately assess him. She acted as if it was the parents fault; (perhaps thinking is was a discipline or, horrifically, maybe even an abuse issue!) Thankfully his dad was relocated during the year.

    His current school has worked extensively with them, and the school-referred psychologist. They are currently working on the positive aspects of being able to take risks (he rode on a roller-coaster, which looked and felt very scary at first, but when he finally took the risk, he loved it!) He does speak to his psychologist. It was important that he not meet her at school, but in her office, which is even located in a different, but neighboring city. I'm not sure if he even knows that the school has anything to do with his meetings with her. She is very positive and feels that he is making great progress.

    A supportive and understanding school makes all the difference! My sister and her husband were at a loss and had no idea how to deal with this. The school helped them understand this was not a reflection of his intelligence, nor anything to be ashamed of, but like any medical illness, needed treatment. People are not embarrassed when their children have allergies, and teachers do not judge. This condition shouldn't be treated any differently.

    I applaud his current school, and all of you who understand and do all you can to help any struggling student; don't they all struggle with something!?!? That's why I love teachers! :hugs:
     
  16. jonb

    jonb New Member

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    Aug 23, 2007

    response from jonb


    As an L.C.S.W. I have worked extensively with selective mutism and social-performance anxiety...
     
  17. patti2

    patti2 Cohort

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    Aug 23, 2007

    JonB-I didn't take your info as lecturing at all and I like to be open to any angle that will help. As a parent AND a teacher I also chalked my son up as being shy and it cost him MONTHS of being miserable!!! I wish I would have read your post way back then. It is just not something one runs into everyday-even guidance counselors and many pediatricians have never dealt with SM. So, from the bottom of my heart I hope you enlightened at least one person who needs to say "Oh my, that IS the little boy/girl in my class...maybe I do need to look into SM!"

    czacza-I am not trying to go against you at all-I just have lived it and took it another way. I TOTALLY respect your feelings on the matter.
     
  18. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Aug 23, 2007

    As I said I am always glad to engage in conversation with and learn from others. I have problems though with someone's FIRST post on the forums using terms like 'pay attention', 'biggest mistake' and 'do not write off the problem'... I think a better intro from JonB would have been, 'hi, I'm JonB. I am a licensed whatever and I specialize in a, b, c. I'd love to discuss selective mutism with anyone who is interested...'...THAT would have been a lot more palatable IMHO...
     
  19. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    Aug 23, 2007

    We definitely have a culture here at AtoZ, and newcomers aren't aware of it. We do welcome all professional opinions and advice. Of course, wording will always make a difference. We just need to respect new members and hope that they will find their way around this site in a manner comfortable for all members.
     
  20. Happy Lady

    Happy Lady Rookie

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    Aug 24, 2007

    Are these children who do not speak at all to the teacher or children who just won't speak to the entire class? I have a little girl who does not respond when called on but if I talk to her privately, she will answer questions. I have tried to "wait" but she can out-wait me!
     
  21. jonb

    jonb New Member

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    Aug 26, 2007

    Thank you for your feedback (everybody) thus far. A very interesting fact is that approcimately 6 out of 1000 children have autism and 7 of 1000 children have selective mutism. There are plenty of "programs" and attention given to autism (thank goodness), yet hardly any for selective mutism.The reason is that anxiety orders are very insidious problems that families try to "hide" .There is extensive denial present. Selective mutism, whch is an obvious sign of social phobia, presents itself in many different degrees. The word "selective" is very accurate. Effective treatment usually requires the parents learning an "empowering" "non-enabling" therapeutic strategy first, which can then be sequenced into the classroom. In my working with teachers across the country the school response has been everything from wonderfully productive to very difficult and resistant. For the purpose of "community education" I would be happy to give the respondents to my initial post a free copy of my selective mutism tele-seminar seminar on cd. This offer applies only to those who have responded as of this date. If interested please contact me
     
  22. jonb

    jonb New Member

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    Aug 28, 2007



    Your student is "detaching" when she "outwaits" you. This is a common response. The term "selective" is very accurate as it can apply to very specific situations or people; or it can occur in a global manner.
     

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