My goddaughter is 5 1/2 and has been diagnosed with Selective Mutism. She has been in a Montessori school for preschool and now kindergarten. She hasn’t spoken in school yet but talks nonstop at home. The class structure is 26 4-6 year olds in one classroom. It stresses peaceful, quiet, individual and at your own pace work. We are confused about what do for first grade on. How do you feel about Montessori vs. public classroom setting?
The number of children in a class is important but what is crucial is the accommodations a school can make to help your child with her anxiety. Most children with SM feel overwhelmed and are usually stifled communicatively in group settings. Accommodations need to be set forth to help your goddaughter feel safe and comfortable. One on one help with another teacher/aid, small group work and understanding her level of communication comfort is important. Obviously working with a professional who can assess your child and develop an individualized treatment plan to help progress within the classroom setting is a must. You can’t do this alone. You need the help to know the steps that need to be taken to build social comfort, confidence and to enable for communication progression. Also know that in private schools they do not have to abide by the IDEA laws of education to provide help to a child, they can decide to ‘not deal with a situation’ and to recommend you seek another school that can provide more accommodations for your child if they do not have the staffing or ability to provide for the ‘ideal classroom setting’ for your child.
The only place that HAS to provide you accommodations is the public school system. However, since few understand SM, you will most likely need to be very, very active in the process to help them know what your child needs. Working with a professional who understands is a must since he/she can help direct the process for you. Most public schools will provide an evaluation via a school team, but the concern I have and see so often, is that misinterpretation of SM symptoms leads to inaccurate placement and inappropriate accommodations. i.e, mute child implies, lets get her to speak! etc., etc.
So, what needs to be done now is to talk with relevant personnel from both possible schools, spend time in the classrooms and meet possible teachers. Talk to other parents in the school system who have had accommodations set up for them. Was the process easy, hard? etc. If you have a nurturing school now, and they are doing everything possible to help your child and willing to go that extra mile, then I would opt for that situation a million times over. So whether public or private is not the answer, it is where is your is child accepted more for WHO she is and understands how to help your child is the school for you!
Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum