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!

Imagine walking into your place of employment, the grocery store, church, or the mall.  As soon as you enter the door, you become overwhelmed with anxiety.  You are terrified and become frozen with so much fear that you cannot utter a sound, make eye contact with those around you, or even nod your head in response to a question.  For many children with Selective Mutism, this is exactly how they feel in social situations.  For some children, they may even exhibit these behaviors within the comfort of their own home.

Here at The Educator’s Room, I have written several articles on Selective Mutism, a childhood anxiety disorder in which a child is mute in certain social situations, but talks comfortably in others.  These children have the ability to talk, but become so paralyzed with fear in some social situations (usually at school), that they cannot talk or interact. Some refer to this disorder as a social communication anxiety disorder.  Over 90% of children with Selective Mutism (S.M.) also have social phobia.  I am passionate about this disorder because my 6 year old son has suffered in silence since he was able to toddle around the house.  He was diagnosed three years ago, and ever since I have made it my mission to learn all I can about S.M. and to inform teachers, parents, and the general public about this rare and debilitating disorder.

Since October is Selective Mutism Awareness month, I put together a little “fast facts” list about S.M. in the hopes that it will bring insight to those who are working with or parenting such a child. In turn, you can help educate those you come in contact with on a daily basis.  There have been cashiers, store clerks, waitresses, and librarians who did not know how to react to my son.  Some even joked with him and said, “What’s the matter, can’t you talk?” This question was painful for me but even more so for my child.  When my son was diagnosed, I had been a teacher for twenty years and had never heard of S.M.  I had never had a child in my classroom who could not speak because of fear.  No one at my child’s school, the doctor’s office, or the local counselors had ever heard of S.M.  Fortunately, we found a psychologist at The Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD who had much training and experience with S.M.

Research supports that it is important that all professionals who work and interact with a S.M. child understand this complex disorder. I would say that it is important for any person who has contact with the child to understand.  From the outside, it may appear that these children are just “overly” shy, obstinate, manipulative, or have control issues. Looks are deceiving. These children are not exhibiting behavior issues. They have severe anxiety issues.

 

Fast Facts About Selective Mutism

·         S.M. is often diagnosed before the age of five when the child enters a daycare or preschool.

·         There are varying degrees of severity of S.M within children. Some do not talk at all and are totally non-communicative: they make no sounds (whisper, laugh, cry, or grunt). Others may whisper to a friend, but not their teacher. Some will use hand gestures and nod their head when asked a question. Others will have a countenance marked by a look of fear, panic, and a frozen, stone-like stare. They may or may not interact with other children.

·         School or other social situations are viewed as threatening or dangerous to the S.M. child.  It is often compared to a phobia.

·         S.M. affects seven out of every 1000 children.

·         To be diagnosed, the mutism must last for at least one month, not counting the first month of school.

·         S.M. is placed within the Anxiety Disorders category of the DSM-5.

·         The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.  Updated this year, this resource is used by clinicians and psychiatrists to diagnose psychiatric illnesses.

·         Without early intervention and treatment, children may go their entire school career without talking.

·         With the proper counseling and help, these children can be “cured”.

·         Treatment often involves desensitizing, taking small steps to eventually talk out loud in social situations.

·         Many children with S.M. have an I.E.P or 504 Plan.

·         These children can and have the ability to talk in some situations (usually at home). In fact, many parents describe their children as “chatterboxes” at home.

·         S.M. is not a communication disorder.  Some children may have speech delays or disorders in addition to S.M.

·         Children should not be forced or bribed to talk. The first step in treatment is to lower the anxiety and make the child feel comfortable.

To learn more, visit  The Child Mind Institute.   Located in NYC, this organization provides a wealth of information and resources on childhood mental health.  You can attend parent workshops if you are in the area or view online.  On October 16, there is a workshop titled “Selective Mutism 101” lead by the director of the Selective Mutism Program.  Click here to register; it’s free!  You can also view the workshop once it is archived.

Together, we can spread awareness about Selective Mutism and help these children to break their silence.

Read more of Lauren’s articles about selective mutism on her author page.

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