I have a meeting set up with school administrators for Tuesday morning and was wondering if anyone had any experience or advice to share.
My older daughter, who just turned 7, was an outgoing and chatty toddler. A few months after she turned three, she suddenly stopped speaking in public. I am not sure exactly why... I know I was a *very* quiet child. My mother was also staying with us at the time and often shared her very loving view that my daughter "talked too much." In any case, my daughter fell completely silent in public until about 2/3 of the way through preschool (at about 4.5) to start speaking to her teacher, and then it was only whispers in her ear.
Over the last few years, she has gradually started speaking more, but her quietness/shyness/silence still impairs her ability to function normally in any kind of social setting. She is comfortable only at home or around close friends. She is a highly sensitive and perceptive person, with no cognitive impairments that would prevent her from understanding material at school. The actual school material has never posed any challenge for her.
When I registered her for kindergarten, I answered the question about languages spoken at home truthfully. Her dad speaks another language, which we speak at home, but I am a native English speaker. I didn't know at the time that our daughter would be required to undergo ESL testing every year because of this. To make a long story short, she "failed" the ESL test because she wouldn't speak to the tester.
In the years since, she has made progress, but is still exceedingly quiet. For example, she will not utter even a single word to most of our neighbors, even some of the children. She is silent at the bus stop. On the playground, if a child approaches her, she will usually not even turn her head to look at the child. She has continued to do poorly on the ESL tests that are administered once a year, despite the fact that she has a very good reading and spoken English skills (at home).
She behaves very differently in public than at home. If she receives sudden attention in public, she will start laughing strangely and hang on me or hide behind me - behaviors that don't seem normal for a seven year old.
Since school started this year, she has been complaining non-stop about ESL, so I wrote the school a letter to express my frustration that she is receiving services she clearly does not need, while I feel that she very much does need help with the social anxiety. The school contacted me immediately to set up an "intervention," for which I am grateful. I would like to make the most of this opportunity.
Has anybody else been in a similar position? Does anyone have advice or suggestions for ways I can ask for and get useful help for my daughter? Thanks in advance!
Although I wonder why the issues hadn't been recognized or addressed by the school already, I think it's great that there's been a meeting organized so quickly in response to your letter. That bodes well. I think there are two issues: the first is to get her anxiety disorder documented so that accommodations and strategies can be put in place. The second is to use that documentation, and the accommodation of an alternate assessment, to get the ESL requirement wiped.
My eldest had Selective Mutism. However, we homeschooled, so she was able to outgrow and overcome it gradually without running into assessment difficulties or the need for organized intervention. So I'm afraid I don't have much advice on that count. The really important thing is for the people at school to understand that her mutism is a reaction to social anxiety, and therefore anything at all which increases social anxiety (eg. direct requests for verbal responses, frustration and irritation of adults at her muteness, large-group audiences, new or unpredictable situations etc.) will make her less likely to speak, more anxious, and slower to overcome her muteness. Instead she needs very low-key, small goals that stretch her appropriately: eg. the goal of greeting the teacher with a "hello" upon arriving in the morning, or of giving at least two verbal "yes/no" answers whenever working one-on-one with a teaching assistant.
And the school will need to come up with some alternative evaluation strategies. For instance, if they want to evaluate her reading ability by having her read aloud, she could read to you at home and you could make a video recording and submit that to her teacher. If part of her grade is certain subjects comes from verbal class participation or verbal presentations, she will need to have an alternate grading system in place and alternate ways of demonstrating competence. There are some tech tools that she might enjoy learning to use: things like iMovie, or PowerPoint, or Prezi. Audio recording technology (on iPods, smartphones, laptops or dedicated recorders like the lovely little Tascam digital recorders) may help her record or present language in alternate formats or environments.
A single meeting might not get it all sorted out. They may want to arrange some assessments, and work from there. Some sort of therapy may be useful. There may be a few suggestions that might be worth trying to see how they pan out, then reassessing and moving on from there.
Hope that gives you some ideas!
Mountain mama to three great kids and one great grown-up
You may be interested in this blog
by a mom who helped her bright girl overcome her selective mutism.
Does she see any sort of therapist or have any kind of formal diagnosis? I wonder if cognitive behavioral therapy would be helpful for her, both in overcoming her current difficulties and in advocating for her with the school about appropriate accommodations.
I have a DD who is both on the autism spectrum and has a social anxiety disorder. She didn't speak to anyone outside of our family for 2 years. Her CBT was helpful in writing letters to the school and suggesting specific accommodations as part of her 504 plan.
Some of what her therapist did might be available through your school counselor. They worked on dealing with the anxiety and how to come back down when anxious.
but everything has pros and cons
Thank you all for your thoughtful replies and suggestions.
I had a positive meeting at the school, in which several people reported that although my daughter is quiet, she does talk at appropriate moments. She moves and sings with groups and even volunteers to talk, which is a monumental improvement over how she was doing just a few years ago. We were at the school together again a few nights ago, and I got feedback that DD was happily participating in some special exercise activity they had done earlier that day. So, apparently she has become more comfortable at school than she is in other public places.
We have no formal diagnosis. Some of the teachers and administrators at the meeting thought I had a problem with my daughter being simply shy, so I had to really insist on the fact that from my perspective (since I really don't know how she is in the public school environment) I see my daughter as confident at home and almost-to-completely silent in public. As soon as the social worker joined the conversation, however, she said that it really sounds like selective mutism, and she will be forwarding me resources to find my daughter more help.
The school will also be starting a social skills group for learning how to manage worries when in new situations and with meeting new people - really for new students - that my daughter will now join once a week. We will be trying to get her involved in more extracurricular activities this year and will also be seeking out professional help as our financial situation allows. The school already planned a follow-up meeting for December, and they have also told me I can ask for one whenever I feel the need, so I am pleased by their willingness to help.
The only thing that I didn't bring up at the meeting was that I believe that my daughter is underperforming and that this is somehow related to the same anxiety-related problems. I have no evidence for this except my momma instincts. So, hopefully we'll be able to find a way to have her evaluated in conjunction with the therapy.