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Am I wrong about my daughter? Could she just be very shy?

I believe that my daughter is selectively mute, although she does sometimes say a few words in school. She will not initiate conversation and will only speak to adults if they are very close family members such as myself her father or grandmother. She can not usually answer any questions from other adults or communicate with her uncles or aunts. She says,"adults look like giants", "two or three people look like 10", "the words get stuck and won't come out". I have witnessed her going stiff and dropping her eyes towards the ground if she is called over by her friends at school, until they take their attention off her she is unable to move. She can talk to a select group of friends but finds joining in games in the school playground difficult.

When she was younger she couldn't ask to go to the toilet and would hold herself in all day, coming home from school very sore. If she falls over at school or someone is being unkind she cannot tell an adult herself. Before her younger brother started school I had to take my daughter right into her classroom almost every day for 2 years. She doesn't like the noise of school or the crowds, she says her headaches almost all the time she is there. At the shops or the supermarket anywhere where it is noisy or crowded outside of school she stays close to me.

She was very excited a couple of weeks ago as she had been given a part in a school play and we spent time practising the two words she had been given to speak. The play went well and was videoed by the Head Teacher. Afterwards, the Head told me my daughter was fine in class and that she had videoed her speaking and taking part in the play. She said she didn't think my daughter had a problem and was just one of several quiet members of the class. She thought my daughter's problem was more socially in the playground than educationally in the classroom.

Answer (by Maggie Johnson, SLT):

No you are not wrong!


Saying lines in a play is a LOW communication load - well- rehearsed and predictable. Your daughter knew exactly what was going to happen and no-one was going to spring a question on her unexpectedly. Many SM children can speak in these situations but not others - it's SELECTIVE mutism.

Does your daughter ask for help if she doesn't understand?
Does she use language to explore a theme and find out more?
Does she contribute to class discussions?
Does she test out her ideas in science and maths?
Does she let the teacher know how she is feeling and if other children are being unkind to her?

If the teacher cannot answer YES to all these then your daughter has a problem in class. For SM children, I would expect the answers to be 'NO' or at best 'A BIT.'

So often it boils down to the fact that, even if SM children talk, they don't initiate, and people seem to interpret that as a choice rather than an inability.

I've just thought of another difference between shy children and SM children, which teachers should consider:

Do you find shy children's quietness annoying/irritating/offensive? - NO

Do you find SM children's quietness annoying/irritating/offensive? - YES

Sad but true, I'm afraid.

Maggie Johnson, SLT