Lesson 57: Selective Mutism- Speak or not to Speak

Recently there were some special cases which resembled a common characteristic. The students seemed to be very talkative at home but turned out to be extremely quiet at school as well as in our place. Seemed pretty normal so where was the problem? In a normal classroom, a teacher always need to manage the students who were naughty, I guess they would be grateful if any student could stay at their seat quietly.

Therefore, 'silent' will not be treated as a problem but it is a good thing for the teacher. In addition, students who are silence will not make you any trouble so the teachers will not pay much attention. The teachers would usually thought that these group of students were just being too shy and quiet.

We checked some information and found out that these students symptoms resembled 'Selective Mutism'. According to Diagnostics and Statistical Manual 5 (DSM-V), the diagnostic criteria of Selective Mutism  are as follow:

A) Consistent failure to speak in specific social situations in which there is an expectation for speaking (eg. in classroom), despite speaking in other situations

B) Interferes with educational OR occupational achievement OR social communication
C) must last for at least one month (not first month of school)
D) Not due to lack of knowledge of or comfort with the language in use.
E) Not better explained by communication disorder (eg. stuttering)

Even though  selective mutism affect merely 1% of the population, we shall not ignore these minority. When you realize the child has the symptoms above, you shall consult a clinical psychologist immediately.

Understand the Feelings of the Child
It is hard to understand a child who does not speak. He or she would remain silent regardless of what you have done. Their eyes is telling you that they have the right to remain silent. It is very difficult to help them without understanding them.

Some parents were so worried that they tend to remind their children, "Remember to greet people! Remember to talk to your friends! Remember to answer questions! Remember to ......" Some parents even threatened their children, "You must speak! Or else......" If you force the children to speak without understanding them,  it may backfire.

This made me thought of my childhood experiences. Once there was a teacher who asked me a question. I sat on my place but looking at the teacher without saying any words. We looked at each other for so long. Then the teacher could not help but be angry and asked, "Do you have the answer?" I nodded my head. "Then why wouldn't you speak?!" When I heard this, it felt like tons of  magma splashing and hurting me. Since then, speaking in school became 1000 times harder.

Even though I was not being diagnosed as Selective Mutism, I guessed I could understand their feelings. Choosing not to speak make them feel safe. As long as they do not speak, they could avoid making mistakes. As long as they do not speak, they avoid troubles. As long as they do not speak, they avoid being laughed by others. As long as I do not speak, you could not do anything. Perhaps they were hurt by unfriendly words, or were afraid being in a brand new environment, hence remain silence has became a protection shield.

You have the Right to Remain Silent and to Speak
Well these children really need to be loved. As a teacher, it is our mission to care for them and make them feel secure. Just imagine, how awful it is if you go to school feeling fearful everyday? Children are supposed to go to school happily in order to learn.

If you have a kid like that, it is crucial for the teachers to encourage the kid. Encourage him to take the first step and never give up. It would be impossible for him to speak immediately after your encouragement. We learn to crawl before we learn to walk. Before the child can speak his first word, there are several ways to help him in expressing his thoughts or feelings:

1. Express his feelings through drawing 
2. Express his thoughts through non-verbal cues, eg. nodding head to show that he 'wants' or 'agree', whereas shaking head to show that he 'does not want' or 'disagree'. 

Whenever the child can express himself through simple method, we give him recognition by telling him that, "Hey, that's right! Good job!"

Tell them that they did well on the things they did well; work with them on the things that they have a hard and difficult time with; and lead them by encouraging them that they can do well! (Joshua J)

A Selective Mutism kid feels secure when he remain silent. As long as they are being guided with love, they will be able to pick up speaking.

1. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (V)
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