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Q: I am a first-grade teacher. I have a student who has been diagnosed with selective mutism. He completes all of his written work in class. However, he will not read orally or speak in class. He does speak at home. I have talked to him via the telephone. Do you have any suggestions? I know he is comfortable in my class. He laughs and smiles. He will complete any given task.
A: It sounds like you have already developed a good foundation with this student. He shows you he takes pleasure in your class and complies with your schoolwork requests, excluding those that involve speaking. Selective mutism is a very tricky diagnosis. Many in the psychological community believe it to be based in childhood anxieties, as opposed to a learning disability routed in delayed or "unhealthy" speech and language development.
You should be working in close concert with his therapist(s) so you can best help this child in all relevant areas (emotional, social, cognitive). To give you a better understanding of this disorder, take a look at the following websites:
Thanks for taking the time to find out how you can help this youngster. Good luck.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.