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Silent Student



I have a student who does not talk at all in school. Apparently, he talks at home, but has gotten through the past two years of school without talking. He is a very bright little boy, but I have a feeling that his reading and phonics skills are quite low. Does anyone have any ideas as to how I can get this child to talk? He went to the speech pathologist last year and he didn't talk to her either. The students have come to accept that he doesn't. If fact, they will tell you he doesn't.
Does anyone have any ideas how I can assess this child's skill level if he doesn't talk... His mom really wants him to talk and she said that he talks all the time at home. His parents first language is Spanish but, according to his mom he speaks better English than Spanish. I'm stumped...

Thanks for any and all suggestions! :)


apple annie

Senior Member
no talking

Wow , what a proble! And here I am WISHING my students would just hush!

Have you tried getting someone who speaks Spanish to talk to him? Maybe you could find an Hispanic aide or teacher or even custodian, who could try developing a relationship with him, pulling him out of class for 20 minutes or so a day. Even though he speaks and understands English, maybe he would be more comfortable with Spanish, and with only one person instead of in the wide open classroom. An hispanic person instead of white might also make him feel more comfortable and willing to open up. I only say this becasue I remember taking Spanish from 7th grade through the end of high school - because my dad MADE me. I was SOOOO self-concious that I never spoke it. I understood conversations, I could read it, and I could do all the written work, but I was extremely self concious about trying to speak correctly with the accent.


I had a student who would not talk last year. It was so sad and frustrating! You are describing my student exactly, except for the Spanish speaking part. I went through the speech testing, also. Like you, it told us nothing. His parents said he talked at home, too. I just wondered if they were being truthful. I even called his teacher from the passed year. She said and felt the same thing I did. It was a big puzzle to her, too! I wanted my child's parents to take him and have him tested by a hospital professional. They left our school before that ever happened. I have read about some different things that may be a language handicap. Could this be anything to do with autism? My child was smart and could read, he just would not read. Only a few times did he pull it together enough for me to realize this. My child's handwriting was very poor, also. Anyway, I don't really have any answers. I just was going to say that I understand your pain.


Probably Selective Mutism

Dear Josie and Nancy:

I suspect your student suffers from an anxiety disorder called "Selective Mutism". This disorder is found in the DSM !V which is the Mental Health manual describing all mental health illnesses. The five criteria for this disorder are listed on the first page of the following internet site: www.selectivemutism.org. Do note that there are downloads that can be printed for both teachers and parents. If this child is selectively mute, he will need you to help guide his parents to seek treatment. This disorder will not disappear even if speech is attained; other mental health issues will surface as depression and social anxiety, not to mention problems with academics and social issues.

I might suggest that you speak to the school psychologist or resource person before speaking to the parents. If you think that I might be correct, please do not "diagnose" this child but describe his behaviours and perhaps, offer a suggestion as to his "silent" persona at school. I have included a post below my name which I have sent to other teachers on this site as well as other teacher sites.

Best of luck -



I belong to a support group for children with anxieties. The
majority of these children are selectively mute. I also am a
retired teacher and volunteer as an advocate for selectively
mute children within our local school board.

The main point that teachers need to understand is that the
selectively mute child is "unable to speak" in situations
where he/she perceives to be "unsafe". The child does not
make this choice; it is the environment (or the perception of
an unsafe place) that renders the child mute. The teacher's
job is NOT to get the child to speak; but to lower the
anxiety so that speech might occur. By the way, when speech
does occur (and this often takes years), this is not the end
of the disorder but only the beginning of a long struggle of
learning to adapt and control one's anxiety (which I often
refer to as "intense distress"). I do hope your student is
under the medical care of a physician who understands anxiety
issues, as most of our sm children require a multi-modal
approach to treatment involving intervention, therapy and
perhaps medication.

I believe the best booklet on the market is "The Ideal
Classroom Setting for the Selectively Mute Child" which can
be purchased from the site that I have listed below (it
retails for less than $20). You will find it easy to read
and understand and a "must" for your young student. The
author, Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum, has two other booklets that
your school or board might consider purchasing; they are more
for the parents of your student rather than the teacher (but
also are very good). In addition, if funds are no
issue, "The Selective Mutism Resource Manual" by Maggie
Johnson & Alison Wintgens is excellent (published in the
U.K.) and can also be purchased from the site I listed. It
gives detailed methods of intervention and many consider
it "the bible" for sm. Another book just published this
fall is by Dr. C. Cunningham of Canada "Helping Your Child
with Selective Mutism", and it too, is excellent.

The site that I have listed above (in the first paragraph) gives an overview of this disorder through its FAQ's. I would suggest you print and read them carefully. There are many other sites for this
topic although they do not have the expertise as the one I
listed. You will note the list of directors contain many
physicans (most of whom are parents of a sm child). Please
feel free to write if you would like any help or support in
the coming months. Good luck and I look forward to hearing
from you -





Thanks so much the info., Joan! I just wish I had had this last year! I do know that my student went back to the school where he had been before mine. His teacher there and I discussed the situation when I had him. I think I will try to contact her and see if she will check into it. This child's mom was sent to Iraq and he was left with the grandparents. I understand the mom just took him to his grandparents and didn't tell him she was leaving. I guess this would cause ANYONE great anxiety!


New Member
Same Here--Last Year

I had the exact situation last year except it was a girl. The counselor and I met with the parents, and she gave them a name of a professional to see. They stopped going after they felt they weren't being treated fairly. I just tried to communicate with yes/no questions (she would nod/shake her head). I taught her a little sign language like thank you and she used it a little, and I let her communicate through writing, but she never said a word. I know she it bright. Most of her work was great. The counselor said that maybe she was a selective mute since she spoke at home with her family. Anyhow, a couple of weeks ago I was at the store and she was there with her mom and sister. She did not see me (I was behind her) and I heard her little voice as she talked to her sister! I was sooooooooo excited! I went up to her and gave her a big hug. She still doesn't talk when I see her in the halls at school, but at least I heard what her voice sounded like!


selective mutism

I had 2 children last year that were silent. One boy I had retained so it was our second year together. The parents had the same comments: "He talks all the time at home." We even had a diagnostician visit with him in his home and he read to her. It is an anxiety disorder. I would keep the students (one at a time) in my class during conference period and have them read to me. The little boy was a low reader but the little girl was very bright. After much talking and prodding from me and their parents, they got to where they would read to me in private. I eventually got the little girl to talk to me when I pulled her out in the hall to ask her a question. I wouldn't encourage this if you do not have the support of the parents though.


Silent Child

I am the mom of a child with Selective Mutism. It is a social communication anxiety disorder. She is extremely verbal at home, but is silent almost everywhere else. She is talking in school some now, but it has taken years to get to that point. Most children with SM are extremely bright. The lack of speech comes from anxiety, not inability or lack of intelligence. In fact, most children with SM are very bright. Check out www.selectivemutism.org The main thing to remember is to lower the anxiety level. Do not pressure him to speak. In fact, talking should be a non issue. My daughter's teachers used her journal to evaluate her skill level.


Full Member
I had a student with selective autism four years ago. His first grade teacher had arranged for his mother to tape him reading so she could evaluate his fluency in reading. He never spoke to his teacher, just used nods and head shakes as well as hand signals. No one really could give me much advice at the time. I sat down with my student and told him that I wanted him to be comfortable at school and be able to join his classmated in our activities as he can. I told him that I needed him to "show what he knows" in reading. I asked him if he wanted to stay after school each week and read with me. He nodded yes and we began to meet one day per week after school. We read in tandem for a while and then I read a word and he read a word. We progressed to each taking turns reading a page. He also agreed to try and say hello and goodbye to me each day. His speech increased in 3rd grade and he is now a 6th grader who speaks as needed. It seemed to help him when he knew that we'd just take it a step at a time. Good luck to you!