About Lauren Norris

I've been a reading specialist for the last ten years and most recently a literacy coach for Pre-K to grade 5 in an elementary school. I began my career teaching honors British and World Literature to high school juniors and seniors. Developed elective course curricula for Shakespeare and Women In Literature courses. Next, I moved on to middle school, teaching grade 8 English Language Arts for 7 years. English department chair for 6 years. I worked as a literacy resource teacher for grades 6-8 and wrote, coordinated, and led professional development to teachers on a weekly basis for four years. I often joke that I went from teaching Shakespeare to teaching Pete the Cat, and I would have it no other way!

Let’s face it: many, if not most, children would rather stay home than go to school.  Most children are ecstatic to have a snow day, a long weekend, and winter and summer vacations.  However, once they are at school they become happily distracted by interacting with their friends, the day’s lessons, and of course lunch time and recess. Sadly, this isn’t so for the child with Selective Mutism (S.M), a childhood anxiety disorder in which the child is mute in certain social situations, particularly school.  In fact, over ninety percent of children with S.M. also have social phobia.

We all have had that presentation, speech, or interview that made us a little nervous beforehand.  We may have had difficulty sleeping the night before the first day of school and butterflies in our stomachs upon awaking.  For the individual with social phobia, they have an irrational fear and anxiety with every day interactions.  They fear being judged by others, being embarrassed, or having to talk with others.  This extreme worry may happen days or even weeks before the event and may occur in all social situations or just with certain ones.  This terrifying fear cannot be controlled and often interferes with adults attending work and with children attending school.

For the child who also has Selective Mutism, this social phobia will usually manifest and present in the classroom as stage fright.  The child may feel their heart racing, they may feel nauseous, they may sweat, and their face may be marked with a frozen, “deer in the headlights” type of countenance.


Anxiety can be so severe for the S.M. child that just the thought of going to school and confronting other children and teachers may be enough to bring on an array of physical symptoms.

~Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum

For other S.M. children, they may appear to be relaxed and comfortable in the classroom.  You may notice them smiling, volunteering by raising their hand, and even verbally communicating through whispering or mouthing words.  However, looks can be deceiving.  With my son, after three years in the same school, he progressed to the point where he would whisper to the teacher, raise his hand and whisper answers, smile, and appear to be having fun.  He never whispered to any of his classmates, but he did move beyond parallel play at recess and interacted nonverbally with friends.  But this is only part of the story.  Nobody but my husband and I knew of the temper tantrums, meltdowns, anxious thoughts, and reluctance to go to bed at night and to school the next morning.

The fact that my son had progressed to the point where he at least appeared to be more comfortable within a classroom setting meant that he had learned to manage his anxious thoughts.  He had made significant strides in learning healthy ways to cope with his fears, so much so that his kindergarten teachers often told me how happy he seemed and was in disbelief when I shared some of the behaviors we dealt with at home.

As with any person dealing with anxiety or any other psychological, emotional, or physical disability or obstacle, it is imperative to learn how to manage our challenges and learn to compensate.  For the individual with selective mutism, this becomes very tricky if she is still in a nonverbal stage.  Imagine being frightened, scared, ill, happy, sad, or mad and not being able to express those feelings!

As parents and educators, we may be frustrated and overwhelmed with how to reach the S.M and/or anxious child.  Next time, I will share a few ways to reduce anxiety in children.

 I share this both as a teacher and as a parent to a child with S.M. and social phobia.  I share this to inform you, not to throw around yet another label or disorder, but to network together to problem solve for this population of children who have no voice.  [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email