Last week I was talking to a teacher who has an eight year old selective mute in her class who is new to the school. I was exploring with her some of the reasons why children choose not to speak and trying to identify with her the possible reasons for this child. I was explaining that the primary task when a child chooses not to speak is to work on reducing their stress and anxiety and to find alternative ways of helping them communicate, rather than focussing on how to get them to talk. I encouraged her to provide him with a visual time table so he knows exactly what is happening and when, including when she will not be in class. I suggested she return to class at the end of the afternoon after PPA (preparation time) to talk to the class about what they would be doing the next day and to say goodbye. In this case the child’s home life is very chaotic and unpredictable including not knowing which of the many family members will be collecting him from school on any given day. These strategies will provide him with a sense of stability and security as he will be able to predict what is happening in the next school day and thus reduce his anxiety.
A week later he is responding well to the visual timetable. When she gave it him he folded it up and put it in his pocket therefore communicating he needed to keep it with him at all times. I suggested she created another one for him to have stuck on his desk. He smiled (an unusual occurrence) when she returned to class after PPA and settled more easily the following morning. I have suggested this week that she create some little cards with pictures and words (I need to go to the toilet, I am hungry, I am thirsty, I have finished my work). By encouraging him to use this form of communication about his needs we are removing some of stress and anxiety for him of trying to communicate verbally. Later we can move on to exploring making more cards for him to communicate about other aspects of school life and thus helping him to integrate in the school community.