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A Voice on Selective Mutism


Photo: Paige served as an Ambassador for the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame in Nashville (04/08).

I am sorry for not posting on Monday. I made an unexpected trip to Atlanta which met with the end-of-the-year packing and wrapping up upon return. As promised, however, I do have a guest blogger for you today. Her name is Tammy, and she is the mother of one of my students, Paige. Paige was diagnosed with selective mutism at the age of four. I asked Tammy if she could post some information on selective mutism so that there could be a greater awarness of what SM is and is not. 


Do you know a child who rarely, if ever, speaks at school but speaks freely at home? I do – or I did. My daughter, Paige, who is now finishing fourth grade with our wonderful teacher, Mrs. Angela Bunyi, was unable to speak to any teacher until third grade.

When Paige was four years old, she was diagnosed with selective mutism (SM), a childhood social anxiety disorder that usually appears in children starting preschool or kindergarten. We first realized there was something wrong when she was 2½ years old and a preschool teacher told us she heard Paige talk for the first time that day. Paige had been enrolled in the preschool for almost six months! She also did not speak in other social settings such as church or with distant family members but was a chatterbox at home.

According to the Selective Mutism Group website, “SM is much more than shyness … SM is NOT a child willfully refusing to speak.” The SM child is most likely to succeed in a comfortable environment where she is not pressured to speak. Early identification and treatment are crucial in determining the success of an SM child.

As for Paige’s success, her third grade teacher graciously gave us the gift of her time during the summer, the days prior to school starting, and then some after-school sessions doing prescribed behavioral therapy exercises with Paige.  In December, Paige spoke to her teacher for the first time and then never stopped! This teacher’s commitment to Paige was the missing link to Paige’s victory over SM! Finally, the place where Paige spent the majority of her time was no longer the scariest place for her to be. This third grade teacher assisted us and Mrs. Bunyi in Paige’s transition to fourth grade, and Paige spoke to Mrs. Bunyi very early in the school year and even read a report on video shortly after starting fourth grade. Paige’s battle with SM isn’t completely over, but she has made it over the biggest hurdle.

I appreciate Mrs. Bunyi allowing me to address you in her blog. We both wanted all teachers to be aware that there are many children suffering in silence with SM; yet very few teachers know about or understand this disorder. But as I wrote this, I realized that I also want to take this unique opportunity to thank all of the special teachers who go the extra mile for kids like Paige. You make such a difference in our kids’ lives and might even change a child’s life forever!

Please visit SMG’s website at selectivemutism.org to learn more about selective mutism.

Tammy Holland


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That's exactly why I wanted Tammy to be my guest blogger on this topic. SM is not something we typically get informed on when we enter the teaching profession, but our interactions and response to an SM student is critical. If we don't know about this or suspect this early on, it can really create a bad foundation for the school year (and beyond).

And I can definitely vouch against the misconception that SM children just don't like to talk or are shy. Just remembering how Paige switched from happily speaking to me to stiff and quite in a nano-second when my husband came up and said hello (beginning of the year party at my house)...I will never forget it. Anyone who doubted SM would understand if you saw that automatic reflex/ reaction.It was not a choice for her to talk to him. Fast forward to the end-of-the-school year- She spoke freely to him and had no hesitations. It was the best feeling!

Again, thank you Tammy for helping me post on this topic!!!




Reading about your daughter, I suspect that a student I had many years ago had undiagnosed SM. At the time I thought she had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. Until now, I had not heard of SM. Her parents wanted me to be tougher on her as she talked freely at home, but at school it was painful to watch the "deer in the headlight" face appear when any adult would call on her. We worked hard to reduce her anxiety at school and I've heard from current teachers that she hardly shows any anxiety at all anymore. Thank you for sharing the information about SM. I wish I would have known about it back then. It was so clear to me that she wasn't being stubborn or "shy"-she could NOT speak even if she wanted to.

Comments are closed. Please see Classroom Solutions, our new blog for the 2009-2010 school year. And stay tuned for Teaching Matters with Angela Bunyi and Beth Newingham.

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