Selective mutism is a rare anxiety disorder that appears in children usually between the ages of 3 and 8. Children with selective mutism do not speak in school or other social situations, although they typically speak and interact normally at home and with family members. Children with selective mutism can become successful at speaking in school and other social settings but may need treatment by professionals such as a speech-language pathologist and a mental-health provider, as they generally have better outcomes when engaged in a treatment plan.
Games as Part of an Overall Plan
Any classroom games aimed at supporting the selectively mute child should be coordinated with the child's treatment providers and be part of an overall treatment plan so these activities help the child progress toward eventually speaking aloud in a normal voice in the classroom.
A child with selective mutism should have a 504 plan or individualized education program -- also called an IEP -- so any necessary accommodations are formalized and shared among her teachers and anyone who works with the child understands the plan. A child with selective mutism should not be forced to speak as part of a game or any activity; rather, any games in which the child will be involved should be structured to allow different modes of communication, such as hand signals, pointing to an answer, drawing a picture or writing.
Games Not Involving Speech
Once the child's comfort level has been established with the teacher or a classroom aide and he is able to communicate with that one person through hand signals, writing or other nonverbal means, he may be ready for games that allow nonverbal participation. Such games should start as one-on-one activities and may include pantomime games or games involving crafts or artwork that enable the child to communicate without speaking. He may also feel comfortable with some outdoor games that do not require speech, such as Red Light, Green Light; Simon Says; hopscotch; jump rope; and dodgeball.
In her work with the speech-language pathologist and therapist, the child may begin by working on her ability to whisper in a social setting, probably to just one person at first. Once the child is able to communicate orally through whispering, she may be willing to participate with another student in a guessing game, such as Pictionary, in which she is expected to whisper her answers. Card games that require little speech, such as Go Fish and War, may also be played in a whispered voice.
Small Group Games
If he's still whispering but able to comfortably play the one-on-one games, the child may be ready to move to small-group games where he is permitted to whisper but can play an important role, such as keeping score or taking notes. Ultimately, the goal is for the child to speak in a full voice, but this process must not be forced. Small-group games that allow the child to whisper and play a noncentral role include Scrabble, Alphabet Back Game, Sticks and Spoons and Chair Basketball. The teacher may also consult with the child's treatment providers for suggestions about games that might work at a particular stage in the child's progress.
- The ASHA Leader: Selective Mutism -- An Integrated Treatment Approach
- Selective Mutism Anxiety Research & Treatment Center: What Is Selective Mutism?
- Child Mind Institute: Tips for Helping Kids With Selective Mutism Go Back to School
- Selective Mutism Group -- Childhood Anxiety Network: School Issues -- Classroom Strategies for Teachers of Selectively Mute Children
- Selective Mutism Group -- Childhood Anxiety Network: School Issues -- Selective Mutism in Elementary School -- Multidisciplinary Interventions
- Great Group Games: Small Indoor Group Games
- Photo Credit Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images
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