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Will He Speak? – (Part 2) It Takes a Village

-Betsy O’Neill-Sheehan

It was the very end of the 2018-2019 school year when my first grade buddy struggling with Selective Mutism uttered his whisper in a tent into a Chatterpix in my office. His beautiful picture now depicted a cartoon version of himself lifting through the clouds with the heartening assertion, “I’m not scared.”

His story at our school started in an amazing and loving Kindergarten classroom. His teachers created a nurturing and supportive environment where he engaged in learning. He mouthed along when the class spoke in chorus. He was happy and goofy with friends. He was comfortable. When it came time for skills assessment, the teachers collaborated with his family and came up with a plan. His mother was coached on how to administer the reading assessment. He read with her on video at home. His teacher later scored what was sent to her, and guide his mother on the next steps.

When his kindergarten class had a play he participated. He dressed in his costume and went on stage with his peers. Each classmate went to a microphone to give their lines. When he approached the microphone, the audio of him delivering the line played. In the DVD that went home with all of the students, it appeared he delivered the line on stage. The kids all loved it!

Grade 1 came, and he continued to show high levels of discomfort in opportunities to speak. Careful consideration was given in his classroom placement to include peers he felt comfortable with, but who would not speak for him. He was masterful at indicating, writing, and drawing his communications. He sang with his classmates in group songs, even at the winter concert in front of many families.

His classroom teachers built communities of support and cooperative learning. The other children were so accepting. They always encouraged and sought to understand.

Each of these were a step in his journey to find his voice at school. Each teacher he had. Each time he indicated or felt comfortable to share in a safe and supportive environment. Each engaging child who was a part of the classroom environment that neither demanded nor blocked his voice.

When second grade approached, careful consideration was given to create an environment that would help continue this path. The week before second grade started, his teacher extended an invite for a meet and greet to all students. My buddy was asked to come earlier than the other students to have a chance for the teacher to meet him 1:1.

In the afternoon after the meet and greet, both his Kindergarten and second grade teacher ran into the office excited. “You’ve got to hear this,” the kindergarten teacher said. She had a bright smile and a tear of hope in her eye.

“He talked to her!” the kindergarten teacher shared. My heart and eyes brightened. These are the moments educators show up to work every day for. These are the people I show up to work with every day.

“That is amazing!” – me with tears in my eyes.

“I just started talking to him,” explained the second grade teacher. “I shared with him that I used to not like my own voice and it was hard for me,” she went on to explain their exchange. It was what you would expect of a student who was meeting his teacher for the first time.

Little by little the success continues with his classroom teacher. Day by day she asks him to share a number of words that they agree on. A month into school, he did his reading assessment aloud with her.

It was all of the steps. He needed all of the steps to get here. His kindergarten teachers, his first grade teachers… they are very similar in their craft and approachability. He needed time and each piece along the way to set up the circumstances that supported his success in speaking. There are still steps to go… will he speak in classroom discussions? Will he generalize and talk aloud to other adults and students? We still walk this journey together, making sure he feels supported every step of the way.


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