Selective Mutism: How to manage a transition to a new class
As we approach the end of the academic year, I have had a lot of parents asking me about how to manage the crucial 'transition'. We know that moving to a new class, year or school is a challenging time for all children, but even more so for children with selective mutism. This article is packed with tips, additional resources and links to help you to make the transition as smooth as possible for the child with selective mutism.
Here are my top transition tips:
1. Have a meeting with the SENCO, teacher etc about the transition. Ensure that everyone understands the importance of it being planned and handled carefully.
Discuss the small steps programme that will be in place from September, has a new keyworker been allocated?
2. Talk casually in a relaxed but excited way to your child about their new class. Discuss what activities and lessons they might do in their new class. Who do they think their new teacher will be? If they feel comfortable doing so, they could write their new teacher a letter introducing themselves and saying what their interests are, or even draw them a picture.
3. Allow the child to play/draw in the new classroom with a familiar person before September (e.g. with a parent or a staff member they are verbal with) - the key is that we want to get them talking in the new classroom before September. Arrange for the sessions to take place in the empty classroom.
4. If it's a new school - visit the school as many times as possible before September, walk around the empty school - turn it into a treasure hunt game of finding where things are e.g. classroom, colouring pencils, playground, toilets, lunch hall etc. You could play 'i spy' in the classroom, or see whether you can see something starting with each letter of the alphabet. Make it fun!
5. Familiarise the child with their new teacher, TA - staff should slide into the new classroom (one at a time) after the child is talking in the classroom. Ideally the new staff should hear the child's voice before September. Perhaps the new teacher could do a home visit? This should be discussed at the school meeting.
6. Ensure that new staff have watched my videos: 'My Child Doesn't Talk at School, An Overview of Selective Mutism', 'What is Selective Mutism?' and 'The Do's and Don'ts When Interacting with a Child with Selective Mutism', at the very least - the more knowledge they have of selective mutism (prior to meeting the child) the better. Here are links to these videos:
7. It may be useful to lend a copy of my book 'Understanding Selective Mutism: A Beginner's Guide' to the new teacher and class staff. This book is a concise 30 page guide that allows the reader to gain a quick understanding of selective mutism, to avoid any misconceptions. You can find the book here:
8. Have playdates over the summer at your house with your child's new class mates. The more familiar the child is with new peers, the more comfortable they will be when transitioning to the new class.
If the child will have the same peers as previously in their new class, the summer is a great opportunity to have playdates to strengthen existing talking relationships with friends, or perhaps fade in peers at home who the child has not yet spoken to.
9. To be as prepared as possible, new school staff can complete my selective mutism online training programme. The aim of this course is to create a supportive school environment where all staff have an understanding of selective mutism. A video outlining what this course covers can be accessed here:
10. Here is a Facebook live video I made about transition with more tips:
11. Do your best to not make your own anxiety known. The child will no doubt feel anxious about moving to their new class but respond in a calm, relaxed manner as though you are confident that they will do their best - because after all they will.