"Hi Lon. I have a little girl we want your input on. Her mother says she talks up a storm at home, but she won't say anything at school. No one has been able to get her to talk in 5 years here. I would like to ask you to come meet an absolute angel that we want to help speak - just get your ideas."
I was listening to my voice mail from a speech pathologist on our team. He was asking for ideas...I had never worked with selective mutism, but found a site for The Selective Mutism Foundation. Under their "Do's and Dont's" section I read about how to encourage speech and what not to do. There are some good resources there for folks to read.
I visited the school on Thursday afternoon. I haven't met the student yet, but here's what I found out and what we are trying as some initial experimental ideas. If you have any ideas or input please let me know:
I was surprised to find that the special education teacher had sent a small micro-cassette recorder home with the student and mom had recorded her talking at home. He played the tape for me.
"Does she know that she is being recorded?" I asked.
"Oh yes, in fact she is very proud of the recordings and has "asked" us to play them for the other kids in group time. We listen and clap and applaud her words. But she just won't say anything."
We talked about how using AAC helps foster language in students that struggle with speech. "Maybe we could use some AAC to help her select language to use," I shared. "The initiation of speech and choice making might bridge the gap and make some connections for her to have a safe way to communicate and then allow her to move into some initial sounds on her own down the road. We have some "Go Talk Ones" ($12.99 each) that are a talking picture frame. You can slide a symbol or picture and a word in and then record the message. They are small and flat - she could have a message she can use at her fingertips." I explained.
"She gets in situations where she gets frustrated," the teacher replied. "She wants to be able to say that she wants to be left alone. Just having a simple "no" or "I don't like that" for her to "say" would be great."
We decided to try 2 talking frames for the rest of May and see how she responds. The teacher and mom are going to continue the recording at home and bring the recordings to school for some positive reinforcement. We will watch and see if she will initiate communication with the Talk Ones and look at what we want to trial next fall.
If she takes to the Talk Ones, we can add some more in her repertoire and maybe start a transition to a Tech Talk or a larger Go Talk with 8 or 20 cells.
As far as software to encourage speech, I have used the Storymaker in Classroom Suite by Intellitools to work with a little girl that would only say one word - never a combination of 2 or 3. I had her help me create a playroom background and we animated a doll sliding down a slide and onto a bed. "Doll go down" was our phrase. We typed it in the text box and practiced reading the phrase. Then we practiced recording her reading the three words. We got her to say the phrase with 2 words and a whisper of the third. If we see initiation of communication with the talk one in this new case, maybe we can start creating some stories and work on simple words and get some interest in trying to record a word.
Another software that could have some great potential would be Clicker 5 by Cricksoft. Creating some word walls and stories with speech could be a way to get her to manipulate the language and the written word.
I also suggested the free Natural Reader floating toolbar with a Word document. By creating a fun page adding images, large colored font, etc. she can work with words and hear what she creates said back to her.
There are so many options to support the development of communication. The challenge is buidling language skills once the communication has begun to flow. Students that have not been using language need lots of practice.
"We think that there will be a watershed moment." The teacher looked hopeful. "Once the speaking starts we hope it comes pouring out."
I will keep you posted if and when that moment arrives!
All the best to you!