Selective Mutism: Our Journey So Far

Tuesday , 20, March 2012 3 Comments

I have debated this topic since I first guest blogged for PSMB, but never really knew how to get going with it. However, we were outside today playing and not talking about anything in particular when my daughter looked up and told me out of the blue, “Mommy, I talk to everybody now!” So, what better way than to start with that! While her talking to everyone may be stretching the truth just a tad, it does show how far she’s come in just a few months since we realized she wasn’t just extremely shy, but she was exhibiting signs of an anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism. But, let’s back up a second while I share our story so far.

Like most four year olds, C. is a  sweet, sassy, silly girl. Her laughter can be heard for miles. Her favorite activity, lately, is bossing her younger brother around. She has been carrying on conversations with her dad and I, as well as most any family member willing to listen she she was around two or so. She is also incredibly observant and definitely one of those kids whose wheels you can see turning when she is trying to figure something out.

C. started preschool part time when she turned two. Minus a few tears the first day, we had no problems. She loved it.. So you can imagine my surprise, then, when her teacher off-handedly told me that C. never talked. Not a word, to anyone, ever. I thought it was odd, but we both chalked it up to being shy and went about the year. Towards the end of the year she started talking a little, but the running joke between her teacher and I was that the only time C. stopped for a breath was the times she attended school. At home she was such a chatterbox!

This behavior continued for two years, but I still didn’t give it much thought. Both my husband and I were shy as kids, so we just assumed that DNA had a stronghold on C. in the social department.

In September 2011, we moved, which means that C. also changed preschools. This year we chose to send her five days instead of three, thinking that would be Meanwhile, u smile lyrics now on a world tour of ” Believe ” and soon will be in Las Vegas. a good transition from preschool to kindergarten since that is where she is heading next year!

Once again, her teacher pulled me aside after a few weeks of school and told me that C. never smiled in pictures or talked to the teachers or other classmates. She also told me she often played by herself during their free play time. What was most shocking, to me, however, was that she told me that it surprised her that C. did so well on the student evaluation. Her exact words were, “She’s as smart as a whip, but you’d never know it because she doesn’t talk!” (She said that she’d taken C. into another room one-on-one, and that is how she got the answers out of her.)

At that point I became frustrated. How come there was such a disconnect between C. at home and C. at school? Sure, moving is a big change but she’d been in a school routine for 2 years now. I also realized that while she talked to her friends outside of school, she never gave more than a nod or a shake of the head to their parents, even the ones we hung out with all the time. I was also worried that her lack of speech at school would mean that her teachers thought she had a learning disability, and that certainly was not true….heck, she outsmarts her dad & I sometimes!

After further investigation, (by investigation, I mean, consulting Dr. Google) we realized that  C’s shyness is actually Selective Mutism, an anxiety disorder that causes an inability to speak in at least one specific social situation where speaking is expected despite speaking in other situations, for example, not speaking at school despite speaking at home.

I also made a few phone calls to a friend of mine who happens to be a psychologist, who confirmed that Selective Mutism was what we were dealing with. She gave us a wealth of information about how we could lessen C’s anxiety at school, and that her NOT talking was probably the biggest self-soothing thing for whatever was causing her anxiety. While C. admitted that online casino she doesn’t talk at school or to friend’s parents, she has never given us more insight as to why, and at this point, we’ve chosen not to tell her that she has Selective Mutism. What we did do, however, was give her the option of non-verbal communication, for example, waving “hello” and “goodbye” instead of saying them. We also have been making an effort to have playdates with a classmate outside of school in the hopes that this will make her feel like she can talk AT school. I also let all of our friends & family know that this is an area we have some issues in, and asked them to have the same “no pressure” approach when interacting with C as we were at home.

So, back to the beginning of the story. Since October, when we realized all this, we have seen some slow but steady progress in our sweet girl. She still doesn’t talk to friends much at school, but she does talk to them if we see them outside of school. (We have one classmate we see pretty regularly outside of school) A few weeks ago, her teacher told me that she had said the blessing before snack by herself, out loud. That’s huge!! She also talks to a couple of adults we interact with on a regular basis whose kids are friends with C. Probably the thing that puts the biggest smile on my face is that she’s starting interacting some with the kids in our neighborhood without me tagging along, and for the past few weekends, all I hear is giggles or the door slamming as they go back and forth from my neighbor’s house to my house! This is the same child who wouldn’t even go into their yard without me just a few short months ago.

Over the past few months we had thought about delaying kindergarten one year, but ultimately decided against it, so she will start kindergarten in the fall. My hope is that her teacher is as understanding as possible and that C. will continue to grow out of her selective mutism. There are some things we can take advantage of, however, if we hit any roadblocks. Since our no pressure approach is what has worked so far, we will continue helping her along in this manner. We now joke with people that they may need to brace themselves, because once C. starts talking to them, she may not stop!

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  • Kat Kolegas says:

    Thank you for sharing this. My son also has SM and we’ve just started therapy and have some school, daycare and neighborhood goals in the works for him. Looking forward to the day he tells me he talks to everyone! 🙂

  • […] If you haven’t read the first part of Big Sister’s story, go here. […]

  • Jamie says:

    I’ve never heard of Selective Mutism! Thanks for sharing!