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Will he speak? – A Story of a Student with Selective Mutism

-Betsy O’Neill-Sheehan

I don’t have favorites, but if I did, he’d definitely be one of them. He has eyes that tell a million stories. His smile gives away his silly side. I’ve worked with him for over a year, but he’s never said one word to me. Not one real word.

My little buddy has Selective Mutism. His parents say he talks nonstop at home, but that is not the case at school. He’s in first grade but he has not spoken to a teacher since he started with us in kindergarten. As the school counselor, I take him with a group of children to discuss strategies for being “Worry Champions.” This year, with that group, I’m piloting a way for kids to create videos to reflect on strategies and empower them to have control of their feelings. While I was unsure at first how my little buddy would respond to being in this dynamic group, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that he is quite the dynamo, himself.

He’s an artist by nature. I ask the group to draw how they would feel without their worry… he’s got himself holding a balloon that is raising him out of gnarled vines to the sunshine. As the group has discussions on how we storyboard their projects, he’s up at the whiteboard drawing it out and entertaining them. They laugh with him, chat him up, and he responds with drawings and actions.

As the school year winds down, the group is putting their final touches on their projects. I came across the ChatterKid APP that makes pictures talk. The group drew pictures of their worry as a creature. The others excitedly added their pictures with silly voices. He laughed along with them.

I dismissed the students one by one as they finished. As I helped another student add her video to her project, I set my little buddy up in a “private studio”, a tent on the other side of my office. I cued his picture in the APP, and urged him to go in and take as long as he needed. I was going to be busy with the other student.

After I dismissed her, I sat down next to the tent. I played it cool. “So what did you come up with?” He handed me the IPAD with the shy smile. I pressed play. The recording played, but I heard nothing. Then I saw the little mouth on his picture move. There must have been something…

I pressed play again. This time I turned my tablet up to full volume. There was a whisper. His cheeks turned red as we heard it say, “I’m not scared.” That’s how he would feel without his worry. He shared his voice.

“I love this,” I said, purposefully understating the significance. “If you like this APP, this private studio, you are welcome to use it whenever you want.” He smiled and nodded.

To be continued….


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