At first these parents thought their children's reluctance was simple shyness. But they soon learned that dealing with selective mutism is never simple
Parents as therapists
“Parents have to play a key and front-line role in intervening and supporting their child,” says McHolm. “They often have to take the lead in educating the professionals they’re working with.”
Hudson did exactly that. First she asked her son’s classroom teacher and the learning resource teacher to read Helping Your Child with Selective Mutism, the book written by McHolm and two other specialists. For ongoing advice, Hudson and her husband met six times (at $125 per one-hour meeting) with McHolm and also emailed her questions. Then Hudson set up a one-hour conference call with McHolm and Tyler’s teachers. Finally, she asked her employer for Fridays off so she could work with her son at school.
For their program, the Hudsons used McHolm’s “exposure hierarchy” or stepladder approach. Parents and educators identify people, places and activities that enable a child to speak most comfortably. Then, gradually, in small steps, the child practises speaking in different places, with different people. Since Tyler spoke most confidently with his parents at home, they would need to come into school and act as a “communication bridge.”
Twice a week for 15 minutes to an hour, the Hudsons met Tyler at school starting in the September of his junior kindergarten year. Initially, they played with Thomas the Tank Engine together in a room. “We used activities that made him so excited, he didn’t think about the fact that he was talking at school,” says Hudson. In later visits, they threw paper airplanes together in the school hallways — saying 1, 2, 3 before each launch. Eventually, they moved their playtime to the gymnasium and to a room still closer to the classroom. Progress was small but steady. By March, he was whispering at school.
Finally, Hudson brought the airplanes into Tyler’s classroom. “The children were fascinated and joined us at the table.” On the last day of class in June, Tyler held up a plane and spoke to his friends: “Hey, guys — you have to throw it like this!” That was a breakthrough.
Mason, with the help of a psychologist and books, ran a similar program at school for her daughter.
Read on: Why professional help is crucial | Progress and recovery