Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Selective Mutism: today's brief success story

Selective Mutism (SM) is very prevalent in the UK. A recent survey showed up to 1 in 150 children may suffer. There's huge debate about who should work on it: some speech and language therapy departments say it's them, others refer straight to CAHMS, as its seen as a mental heath issue.

It may be an anxiety based disorder but Speech and Language Therapists are trained to deal with all kinds of speech, language and communication problem and CAHMS are not. Where the two can work together that's great. At Small Talk, we see lots of children with SM and work with a counsellor and clincal psychologist where necessary. I've also studied both CBT and animal assisted therapy which adds more strands to our thinking/therapy.

I met a very anxious child in July before the schools broke up. She talked to her mother and sister only, no other family members. She wouldn't look at me and I did not attempt to talk directly to her. Her shoulders were hunched and she hung her hair over her face. She had no voice even for laughing (her dog found dog biscuit in my jacket pocket and pinned me to the settee, which was funny!). I decided to go into school in September to arrange a small steps programme. I was a little worried because it was an enormous primary with over 100 children per year group. I thought they might be too busy to support my plans.

I met with the SENCO and the TA in September to discuss a small steps programme. I asked for 3 weekly slots of 10 minutes each where she could form a  relationship with the TA. To begin with they'd use non-verbal games to build confidence etc. They were very keen to help and to do anything which would make a difference.

In October, I reviewed the situation and was very pleased; she was now talking in a whisper to one of her teachers. The TA and I discussed activities, aims and how to build on this.

Today, I went in again and she is talking freely to both her teachers in class to ask for help, make requests, comment and even for fun! She looks confident, smiles a lot and joins in everything she's required to. She still doesn't talk to her peers in school, so that's the next steps. I'm going in again in February but they know they can ring me anytime.

It just shows what a major difference can be made if we break the problem down into small manageable steps and put appropriate plans in place. Congratulations to the school and especially the TA!!

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