The beginning of a new school year can be an exciting time for you and your child but may also bring stress and apprehension. Your child may be starting at a new school or staying at the same school but meeting the teacher for the first time. You may be asking yourself questions, such as “Where do I go for resources for my child’s school?” and “What do I need to help my child feel more comfortable at school?” Your child’s teacher and peers may also have a limited understanding of selective mutism and have difficulty knowing how to respond to your child. We have some helpful tips and ideas below to help smooth the way for a more successful start of school.
Set up a meeting with your child’s school
Many schools are unfamiliar with selective mutism, so providing them with information regarding your child and their selective mutism is the first step. This meeting is a great time to talk to your child’s teacher, guidance counselor, school psychologist, principal and other supports regarding your child’s behaviors and details of his/her mutism. Ideally, if your child has a therapist, invite them to help support you and your child at this meeting! It is also important to have your child’s previous teacher at this meeting to discuss strategies he/she used to help your child feel comfortable in the classroom and how they assessed academic knowledge. Be sure to discuss whether a 504 plan or an individualized education plan (IEP) may be needed to provide supports and specific accommodations for your child. Each child’s selective mutism is different and supports should be adjusted to account for your child’s needs. Handouts for requesting services at your child’s school are included on our website.
Plan visits to the school
We encourage you and your child to visit your child’s school and classroom before the year begins. This is a great way to increase his or her comfort in the classroom and other important spaces before day one arrives. If feasible, practice speaking on the school grounds (playground, office) with your child when few others are around. This will allow for your child to practice speaking in the school environment without the added pressure of others hearing him/her.
These visits are an important first step toward transforming the classroom from a space where your child “does not yet talk” to a place where they feel more comfortable and eventually speak! Call the school and request that you can make these visits prior to the start of school. Bring some games or activities you know your child likes to help your child feel more comfortable in the classroom.
Additional steps to to help your child feel comfortable at school and begin to communicate
- Find out who your child’s upcoming teacher is and request to schedule some one on one time with your child before beginning the school year. Most teachers are prepping their classroom the first week before school, which may be an ideal time to schedule a meeting. Individual warm up time with the teacher may increase the likelihood that your child will feel more comfortable with their teacher and communicate with him or her.
- Work on a plan with your child’s school, where your child can be rewarded for communicating first with non-verbal gestures (writing, pointing), and then verbally (yes/no responses, 2-3 word responses). Consider the use of a reward chart to help you and your child keep track of their progress!
- Work with your child’s teacher to assure communication between parent and teacher regarding your child’s mutism and any attempts at speaking. On-going meetings regarding your child’s progress may be needed to exchange information on your child’s progress and challenges. Ideally, this should begin soon in the year, so your child can practice communicating as early as possible.
- Set up play dates with classmates at a place your child may feel somewhat more comfortable, such as at your home or a playground.
- Excellent resources for school-based professionals working with children with selective mutism are listed on our website: https://www.selectivemutism.org/sample-page/im-an-educator/
- It is important to note that the plan for helping your child overcome his/her mutism is specific to them, but the provided links and our website (www.selectivemutism.org) are available for use.
We at SMA wish you a brave and exciting school year!
Rachele Diliberto, PhD