At the beginning of my career, I primarily worked with children in home and school settings. My routine was to receive the referral, go to the home and meet the family, talk about the reason for referral, and introduce myself to the client. After this initial session, I would then go to the school and speak with counselors, teachers, and the client. This practice gave me a well-rounded view of what was happening with the child. We would then decide if it was best to continue meeting in school, at home, or in a combination of the two, while always keeping in contact with parents and guidance counselors to keep track of progress.
It was this way that I met Xavier. He was referred due to refusal to speak in school. When I went to his house to introduce myself, I was met with the most quiet home I had ever visited. The home of two parents, one middle school child, and two elementary school children. I was surprised at the silence of a full house during that initial meeting. When I started speaking with mom, she told me how preoccupied she was with her son because of his refusal to speak in school. She explained that his shyness began in kindergarten. He had always been a very outgoing child, very talkative, and then one day he stopped talking at school. Although I never heard it, she said he was a chatterbox at home and the only place he did not speak was in school. Mom also told me she had made the mistake of telling him I was coming from school, which meant he would not be talking to me.
Before meeting Xavier, his dad arrived home from work and sat down to listen to what we were talking about. He was very quiet. He only spoke to answer my questions. And with a very soft tone, he told me he had experienced the same problem when he was younger. He never spoke in public. While speaking with dad, I had a feeling that someone was watching me and when I turned around I saw Xavier. He left the room as soon as I turned around. Mom walked me to his room where I met his siblings, who were actually very outspoken, and where I also met Xavier. That day Xavier did not say one word to me; he only put his head down and avoided my eyes.
The following week I went to the school, prepared with my bag full of games to help Xavier warm up to me. We spent five weeks playing UNO, where instead of saying UNO he would put up a sign when he was about to win. We practiced different behavioral techniques to slowly help him speak to me and then to the school staff. I spent those weeks also working with his family giving them tips on how to handle his “shyness,” how to help him open up, and explaining to them about their son’s behavior.
Xavier had selective mutism. Selective mutism is a variant of social anxiety disorder, with an onset between the ages of three and six. A child experiencing the disorder may speak in select situations but not in others, or with specific people but not with others. They often have a family history of anxiety disorders and may have co-existing disorders, such as Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or developmental delays. It is best to seek treatment as early as possible because the more that silence is practiced to avoid anxiety provoking situations, the harder it is to change the behavior.
As the 2017-2018 school year approaches, it is important to recognize, support, and help your children with any anxiety experienced. If you feel that your child’s anxiety is interfering with their daily activities, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando mental health counselors.