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Selective mutism and public schools

Asked By: Anonymous     Views: 770 times

I am a speech language pathologist in an elementary school.  We have a 1st grader who exhibits all selective mutism criteria--no talking in school or anywhere else with the exception of at home, receptive language is age-appropriate, parents report typical language use at home, does not talk to peers...  Parents have never taken him anywhere for treatment or diagnosis even though they do agree that he exhibits all symptoms.  Our special education director and school psychologist have asked me to evaluate his language skills so we can qualify him for services.  I have a huge issue with this because he doesn't have a language disorder.  Academically, his performance is average, he was able to complete ALL receptive portions of a language test.  Yes, he will fail the expressive because he doesn't talk.  I recommended qualifying him in the area of Emotional/behavioral Disorder and was told that we did not want to give him this label.  (So instead we are going to give him an inaapropriate label).  Any suggestions on how to convey the fact that this is not a communication disorder? Thanks!

You present a very important issue; thank you. The educational system, in general, does not understand selective mutism as an anxiety disorder, and because the primary symptom is a lack of speech, intervention for language and speech issues is the most common process. In most cases this is quite unproductive. But, please understand that the professional community, in general, also does not understand this "phenomenon". While the reality is that selective mutism is an anxiety disorder and a variation of obsessive compulsive disorder, it obviously is also an "emotional disorder". The problem is that this label will not translate automatically into the provision of productive services. In fact, in many cases, the placement into special needs environments can worsen the problem! Dealing with the SM child at school is a challenging and complex task. While legal issues do position SM as a "handicap" in need of accomodation, the accomodation often turns into "enabling" the addiction to the avoidance of speaking. In other words the classroom and academic issues are taken care of at the expense of the child's mental health. In order for any healing to take place it is imperative that the parents educate themselves to the dynamics of the problem and their role in "enabling" vs."empowering". Anything other than parents getting involved will result in fragmentation of any treatment process. The "typical language at home" is a common profile. The mutism occurs in "performance" scenarios. There is plenty of free and important information at This includes a free seminar with a professional baseball player and his wife who talk in detail how they resolved the problem with their 7 year old, interviews with familes who have experienced and resolved the problem, self-help and treatment options. Information is power!

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