Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Tips For: How to Handle a Child who Refuses to Speak

Selective Mutism is an anxiety disorder where a child will refrain from speaking at all.  When spoken to, this child will react in a way that is clear they understand and will participate in the activity, but will not speak to anyone in the school setting.  However, he/she will be very verbal at home.

Don't let the fact that this child is choosing not to speak, frustrate you.  Let's look at reasons why they may do so.

Why are they refusing to speak?

  • Control:  This could be a controlling mechanism.  A school is a place where someone other than the primary caregiver makes the rules.  This child may use his/her refusal to speak as a way to be in control.  In their mind, no one can make them speak.  
  • Intimidation:  This child may feel intimidated by other students.  His/her social and emotional skills may not be developed enough to deal with a school environment or the coping strategies may not have been put in place.  A history of bullying may also be a cause.
  • Fear of Failure:  He/she could feel it safer not to talk due a a fear of failing (saying the wrong thing, pronouncing words incorrectly or speaking with an accent). 
  • Social setting:  Is the child new to the school or of a different language group?

Tips to handle children who refuse to speak:

  • Use puppets or toys as a form of communicating:  Giving  the child another character may encourage him/her to speak as the character.  Role-play may have the same effect.
  • Be patient
  • Do not try to force the child to participate:  Increasing the child's anxiety will only worsen the situation and give him/her less reason to display trust towards you.
  • Do not draw attention to the behavior.
  • Suggest a family member (or someone the child is comfortable with) come to school for a period during the school day.  This will give the child an opportunity to communicate with someone in the school setting.  It also shows the child how the trusted family member engages with his/her peers.
  • Seek professional assistance.  Specifically selected therapies may be needed to assist in reducing anxiety and improving/correcting a speech impairment if one is present.  Early intervention is key!

Do you have any tried and tested tips to add to this list?  Please share them in the comments section!

Happy teaching!

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