Helping a New Student Already Diagnosed With SM

If you learn that a new student in your class has struggled with selective mutism in the past, helping him learn to feel comfortable with you is important. Here are some ideas that might help:

Schedule a Visit 

Many experts recommend that a student with SM meet his new teacher before school starts so that he gets to have a one-on-one interaction, before other kids are around.

You could arrange for the child’s parents to bring him by the classroom in the days before school starts so that you could introduce yourself and give a tour of the classroom. He doesn’t need to speak to you during this first meeting if he isn’t ready, but he might be able to have a conversation with his parents so that he starts building successful speaking experiences inside the classroom.

If there are toys in the classroom, you might give him the chance to play for a few minutes. After he’s gotten comfortable, you could be a “sportscaster” and do a play-by-play recap of what he’s doing (“I see you’re moving the cow into the barn” or “Wow, you’re making that car go fast!”). This is a great way to connect with him even if he isn’t ready to speak.

Make a Video 

Another good way to break the ice is to have the child record a short video for you at home. This way he can introduce himself in an environment where he feels comfortable and you can see how chatty and confident he can be. If he’s able to, it would be good if he could show you the video himself during the family visit before school begins. This is one way for him to start communicating with you and thinking of himself as a speaking person at school.

Arrange Plan Bs 

Try to have a Plan B for situations where the child is being asked to do something he can’t do yet. For example, rather than asking your student what job he wants in the classroom that day, your Plan B might be to say, “Jack, come and point to the job you want today.”

Likewise, if you learn that a student isn’t ready to ask you to use the bathroom, work out a plan in advance. If he can use hand signals, arrange for a signal he can use when he needs to go to the bathroom. If he’s not able to use signals, maybe for now there can be an understanding that he is allowed to use the bathroom when he needs to without asking permission. Make sure he knows where the bathroom is, too. For other children, simply taking them to the bathroom and saying “time to go to the bathroom” may be needed.

Talk to the Treatment Team 

If the child is receiving treatment for his selective mutism, ideally you would be able to speak with his therapist or his parents to learn more about what he is doing in treatment and how you can support that in the classroom. For example, they might be using a star chart to reward him when he follows through with a particular behavior he’s been working on, and you can help reinforce that. Likewise, he might be responding well to certain techniques that you could try to use. It’s important for the treatment team to make sure you’re on the same page, because any advances made in the clinician’s office need to be able to transfer into the classroom for them to be a true success.