Selective Mutism is something that a lot of people don’t really understand. We hear a lot about Autism spectrum disorders, and ADHD, but there isn’t a much news to be found that talks about children who are selective mutes. It turns out that therapy animals can help children who are selective mutes to find their voices.
Although I am not a parent myself, I am familiar with what children who are selective mutes are like. My sister was a selective mute until she was around nine years old. I remember reading somewhere that many kids who are selective mutes decide to start talking somewhere around that age.
I’ve also worked in special education classrooms as a substitute teacher, and as a full time teacher’s aide. In about five years of teaching, in countless random classrooms before finally settling into one for a long duration, I came across exactly two students who exhibited signs of being a selective mute. It’s not an incredibly common thing.
Therapy animals have been used to help people of all ages who have a variety of special needs. Most people immediately think of the guide dogs that help people who are blind to safely maneuver through the world around them, but this isn’t the only instance where animals have been used to provide assistance. Many psychotherapists have started using therapy animals to facilitate treatment of children who have emotional, social, or even physical, difficulties.
Psychotherapist Aubrey H. Fine has been successfully using therapy animals with special needs children. Dr. Fine had a five year old patient named Diane who was a selective mute. Diane was able to speak when in therapy sessions with Dr. Fine if a therapy dog named “Puppy” was present. Diane was taught what to say to call the dog over to her, and would speak those words. The therapy animal provided a safe way for Diane to begin to use her voice.
Children who are selective mutes can hear, see, and even talk, just as well as any typical child their age. The difference is that these children select whom they will and will not speak to in a more severe way than would be normally expected. It’s not unusual for a kid who is a selective mute to speak normally at home, where only close family members are present. That same child could select to never utter a single word at school, to teachers, to peers, or even to their parents. The reasons why the child makes this selection are complex, and may be different from one child to the next.
I never would have guessed that a therapy animal would be helpful to a child who was a selective mute, but it seems to work, at least in some cases. This may be an avenue that parents can explore in an effort to gently encourage their child who is a selective mute to speak.
Image by Andrew Warren on Flickr