December 5, 2023

As educators, we always see different characteristics in all of our students, but one that is not so common is selective mutism. Selective mutism is identified as a complex childhood anxiety disorder that is characterized by the child’s inability to speak and communicate effectively, mostly during social situations such as school.

These children are usually seen to be able to speak in situations where they feel more comfortable, relaxed and secure. So how do you make sure these kids feel safe and relaxed at school?

Working with a student with selective mutism
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Recommendations for working with a child with selective mutism

Preferred items

Find your child’s favorite items, activities, snacks, games, etc. and use them to support communication when asking for things they might want. This will help them feel comfortable communicating with you and/or other adults they interact with.

Give them their space

Sometimes children just need time and space to become comfortable, especially when it comes to new surroundings. Hopefully you will slowly see participation through body language and gestures and then work your way up to using their verbal communication skills. It will be a slow but steady process.

Never assume they won’t talk

Please continue to communicate with them as you would with all of our other students. Try different strategies – picture cues (PECS), AAC devices, sign language, etc. Encourage communication in any way you like.

Build a relationship

Build a relationship with this student. You are the one they see more often than anyone else in life. You will become their safe space, a person with whom they are familiar at school and with whom they feel comfortable. If they don’t feel like they can open up to you, then they won’t feel comfortable opening up to anyone else.

When he talks

When your students finally use their verbal language, be supportive but don’t draw attention to it. You don’t want to embarrass them and make them retreat back into an environment where they don’t feel safe communicating.

Have you ever worked with a student with selective mutism? If so, what suggestions do you have for successful communication? Let us know in the comments below!


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