In the first of 2 blogs on Selective Mutism, Vanessa Lloyd of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS FT describes using Talking Mats to give a young boy the opportunity to communicate at a time when talking was too hard.
Using Talking Mats with a primary school aged child with developmental Selective Mutism
Selective Mutism is a form of social anxiety characterised by stark differences in how a person communicates in different situations. There is also acute awareness of everyone around them who may be listening, either intentionally or accidentally. In Education settings Selective Mutism often become apparent at times of transition and teachers often describe a very different child to the one a parent knows at home. As a school therapist I have the job of finding the puzzle pieces and bringing them together in a way that home and school can understand. I have found the Talking Mats approach to be very useful when working in this area. Here’s an example;
I recently took a referral for ‘A’ who is 6 years old:
Main points from school:
- Joined 12months ago
- Not spoken at school in those 12 months
- Staff felt they didn’t know him
- Staff assumed he was happy not joining in
Main points from parents:
- Aware he is quiet in school
- This is who he is and he has been like this since starting Nursery
My observations indicated Selective Mutism;
- his body language indicated anxiety in situations where he was expected to speak or interact
I needed a way to feedback this anxiety to staff and for A to be heard without using his voice. After building a rapport with him I introduced Talking Mats and offered him the opportunity to engage
Using the Primary Communication Rating Scale (Johnson & Wintgens, 2016) as a basis, combined with an image system he was familiar with, I planned the symbols needed to support the conversation and set out the expectations for the activity. Fundamentally, I made it clear that he did not have to talk to me to participate.
How it went
The school environment.
As anticipated, he made his feelings instantly clear about the activities where he was required to talk, rapidly sorting them into ‘unsure’ or ‘don’t like’.
What was less expected was how relaxed his body language became, particularly when I suggested showing his class teacher. It was as though he knew that there was some power behind his arrangement of these symbols and he was ready to embrace it.
Talking at home.
Having fully grasped the potential of the task, this young boy set to work answering my questions through careful consideration and placement of symbols. The same questions that would otherwise spiral him into a freeze or flee response were now being answered with a newfound command of the situation. He had things to say, things he wanted people to know, and in that moment, he had a way of doing this
Taking it forward:
Showing the child’s perspective provided a powerful way of highlighting to school the misguided assumptions that had been made about his feelings and attitudes towards talking. The Talking Mat conversations opened the discussion about the importance of Selective Mutism intervention and created a platform for the child to be involved and be heard. He was a valued contributor in an environment which was previously inaccessible for him.