Monday, February 18, 2013

back to school basics

For the parent of a child with special needs going back to school can be rather stressful. Even more-so for parents of children with Selective Mutism. Essentially going back to school is fraught with anxious opportunities, thereby being a hazard for the anxious child, even a point where children can regress. How do we navigate this process well?

Laying the foundation

- Set up a meeting
This process will be different if you are starting school fresh, or if your child has been recently diagnosed. Introducing Selective Mutism can be incredibly daunting as the lack of awareness is quite a challenge. So first up meeting school staff is important and if at all possible to do this before school even starts. 

-Find out what funding is available
Most of the information on Selective Mutism is based in other countries and not quite relevant in terms and the accommodations they will have available for each student.  In Australia the systems are different for each state and it is also different for if your child attends a public or private school (independent). To enable the school to apply for funding they will need the following

  • Pediatrician report, stating diagnosis and if possible the accommodations that is recommended for the student
  • Speech Assessment report, often children with Selective Mutism can also have speech delays because of the lack of social interaction because they aren't engaged in as much verbal interactions. 
  • Any other relevant diagnosis reports and information helpful for the school.
  • Information on Selective Mutism as based on the DSM 4 (or very soon 5) for the school to reference too. 
If you discover some resistance to applying for funding, Selective Mutism is a mental health issue. From my experience I found that the area of funding is under the same area as Autism and other conditions like it, it comes under the Severe Mental Health banner. Each school area has different deadlines, so it is helpful to know when these deadlines are, for example information can be needed in term 3 of the previous year. 

- Ask for information about your school's inclusion policy, their special needs policies and procedures and information about how they manage IEP's
It sounds very formal but this information will be of help now and the future. Understanding how your school approaches special needs and the resources they have available should it be needed will start things off on the right foot. 

Other resources helpful for Selective Mutism:
10 Ten Myths about Selective Mutism
an essential tool to show the progress of our children with their speech and overcoming Selective Mutism, to be used in conjunction with the Social Communication Anxiety Inventory Scale. 

Painting the picture

Knowing your child well, will help your teachers teach your child better. Often we discuss our child's weaknesses, but we fail to mention our child's strength's what they like what they don't like, what works with them. 

- allow your child to have one on one time with the teacher or teacher's aide
In the busyness of a classroom, it can be hard for a teacher to get to know your child. A little one on one time can make it easier for your child to form a trusted relationship with the teacher or aide, this is really important for children with Selective Mutism. In this time it is great to encourage the child to share something he/she likes this can help share interests. 

- write a communication passport
In the case of children with Selective Mutism it is VERY hard for adults who are involved in their lives to get to know your child. A communication passport is a book that a child can have a school that can take the place of a introduction and explains the ins and outs of your child in a positive way. You can list your child's diagnosis, their preferences, their strengths and how to work with them, don't forget your child's interests as well. 

- keep it written
When working with children and anxiety and special needs, it is really important not to discuss their issues in front of the child and it is important to set a boundary in this area. A common practice is to use a communication book. This is great for sharing how your child is going, share successes and if they are feeling more anxious than normal. It can also be used as  a record for future purposes. Also when communicating with staff it is also great to do it in writing for example using email. 

When things go wrong

We don't really want to think about this at all, but it might just happen. Sometimes things go wrong sometimes it is the teacher sometimes it is other students. Here are some tips to help you on the way (I am still working this out)

- Use your child's communication book
When things happen this is your first point of call, write down the incident or whatever is bothering you. Avoid using emotional terms and try write things as objectively as you can without pointing the finger at anybody, for example "saying you did this". Also if your child relays a situation to you, let the teacher know what your child said and then ask what happened. Sometimes a child can hear a few words out of context as kids do and the situation might have actually been different (N.B I didn't say our child lied). 

- If it is something that is serious
Give the teacher a chance to respond, I have found asking the teacher to give me a call gave me a chance to speak to them when they were ready. It takes a lot of guts to approach and confront an issue. It is better to do this in a safe place. So using the communication book to communicate what happened and ask them to call you if that is relevant. I had one situation where this was appropriate and it worked really well. 

- Follow the chain of command
If you want the teachers to respect you and your opinion, offer them the same courtesy when at all possible. Deal with the issue with the person the issue started with. Start with them and then work your way up. Sometimes we can get really involved in the incident and we get worked up and want to go to the top first. But if we give the staff member the opportunity to work it through with you shows respect and it also helps them. We don't often think of the ramifications of our actions and if we have a good teacher then we don't want to get them into strife with their bosses if it isn't necessary.

- Be the voice
You are your child's advocate, in laying the foundation I suggested you get the information about your school's policies so that you know what is what. This way when push comes to shove and you need to keep asking for the school to accommodate you have more authority. Sometimes unfortunately we advocate and communicate well, this does not mean we have to put up with their decision we just need to decide if it is an issue worth taking further or not.

Next post I will discuss further how to stage and carry out a intervention program for a child who has Selective Mutism in the school environment. 

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