Our 3 y.o. daughter, who absolutely loves her preschool, stopped talking at school at the end of October. Her teacher informed me immediately and the only “incident” we can attribute this to was a group of 4th graders who were rambunctious on the bridge to recess. Our daughter will speak, sing, yell, etc. at home, at her grandparents’ home, at our close friends’ homes, in public, etc. and will actually speak to me in her classroom (where I spend a lot of time each week thanks to your Web site advice) and will even talk to other classmates if I am in there. We also have classmates over to the house (1-3 at a time) and she is verbal and enjoys being with them. She does, however, clam up with adults she is not very familiar with. A little girl in her class has never spoken and my daughter has asked three or four times: Why do S and I not talk at school? Except for the one time I asked if she would like my help learning to speak at school, we have not mentioned it.
Is she SM? If so, can I help her overcome this with the support of her school, her teachers and a “team” leader, such as a therapist? Which discipline is the best for this leadership position (I met with a counselor who has a great reputation in our area but seemed at a huge loss on SM)? Are you suspicious as to why our daughter has taken on personality traits such as those of the classmate who has been SM from the beginning? Lastly, our daughter is far and beyond smart – I do not know national standards but she is do much more progressed than her classmates. Is this a factor? We do not push her in that way but do follow her lead in what she needs for stimulation. If all of this is too in-depth, I would love the opportunity to discuss it in a phone conference. I do not want it to get to be an enormous issue rather than one that affects 10% of our lives. Thank you for your kind attention.
First off, without formally evaluating your child, I cannot state with certainty that she has Selective Mutism. I can tell you that if your child speaks quite normally in at least one setting but is MUTE in at least one setting, she seems to fit the criteria. You mentioned the other child whom your child is identifying. I believe that your daughter identifies with this other child because she is also demonstrating similar anxieties. If your daughter was mimicking this other child, there would be episodes where your daughter would not be consistent with her anxiety. So, what I believe you are witnessing is two children who are similar!
In regards to who should lead the treatment process. What is important is finding someone who UNDERSTANDS. Whether this be a psychologist, social worker, speech pathologist, physician, etc. In other words, as long the treatment professional understands the dynamics of Selective Mutism and is able to develop a treatment plan based on her unique situation, then you should be in excellent hands! The team approach is a must. In other words, coordinating home and school is KEY. i.e., working on ways to build social comfort begins with forming friendships with other children. While you are having playdates with specific children, the school is arranging specific social situations involving that child and your child. Your treating professional will be guiding the process along.
You mentioned not wanting your child’s SM to take up more than 10% of your lives. I can tell you that avoiding or belittling the issue will only backfire. In other words, your child needs to be aware of the process and work with someone that can help her acknowledge and assess her anxious feelings. You cannot put this on the ‘back burner’ or she will not learn to cope and will avoid her anxious feelings. I suggest making this a top priority but see it in a positive manner.