Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Meeting Educators Where They Are: Professional Development to Address Selective Mutism

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Meeting Educators Where They Are: Professional Development to Address Selective Mutism

Article excerpt


Children with selective mutism (SM) present unique challenges for teachers. Typically, children with SM have such an immense anxiety associated with being seen or heard speaking they fail to speak inside the classroom and particularly with teachers. This article reports on the effectiveness of a small-scale exploratory study involving 22 participants in a targeted professional development (PD) workshop on SM. Using a pre-post questionnaire design, the researchers explored the potential of PD to contribute to increased knowledge and awareness of SM as well as conceptual changes in the strategies used to support children with SM within inclusive classrooms. The PD workshop contributed to enhanced levels of knowledge and educators' confidence in addressing children's needs and may be a first step in addressing the dearth of literature on the teaching of children with SM as well as inform future professional development needs of teachers.


Les enfants avec mutism selectif (MS) presentent des defis uniques pour les professeurs. Typiquement, les enfants avec MS ont une anxiete immense associee avec la communication qu'ils ne parlent pas dans la salle de classe et notamment avec les professeurs. Cet article fait un rapport sur l'efficacite d'un atelier sur le developpement professionnel (DP) qui a ete dirige avec 22 participants. L'utilisation d'un questionnaire (pre-poste), les chercheurs ont explore le potentiel de DP pour contribuer a la connaissance et a la conscience augmentees de MS de meme que les changements conceptuels dans les strategies qui sont utilisees pour soutenir des enfants avec MS dans les salles de classe incluses. L'atelier de DP a contribue aux niveaux ameliores de confiance et de connaissance et possiblement peut etre une premiere etape envers adresser le manque de litterature sur l'enseignement d'enfants avec MS.


Jenny (1) is a lovely precocious 4 year-old who attends a pre-school program in the morning and a junior kindergarten class in the afternoon. Both of her teachers have 25 years of experience between them working with children this age. Yet, this year both professionals are exasperated and feeling frustrated for in spite of their knowledge and initiatives, Jenny won't speak in class.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fourth edition (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), Jenny may be selectively mute (SM). SM is defined as "the consistent failure to speak in specific social situations" (p. 127) despite the same individual being able to speak in other situations. In addition, children like Jenny may speak in one context but not in another and this often interferes with social communication and/or educational achievement. Indeed, the literature has documented several cases like Jenny, with some indication that SM may have a higher prevalence rate than autism (Selective Mutism Group, 2010).

With an onset age that coincides with school entry (2.7 years to 4.1 years) (Garcia, Freeman, Francis, Miller, & Leonard, 2004), SM also occurs predominately inside the school. Therefore, educators can play a pivotal role in assisting these children to overcome their "fear of being seen or heard speaking" (McHolm, Cunningham, & Vanier, 2005) and to gradually find their own voices within an inclusive classroom. Since the principal symptoms of SM can be surmounted with early diagnosis and intervention (Schwartz, Freedy, & Sheridan, 2006; Stone Pionek & Kratochwill, 2002), front line teachers hold crucial positions to help identify children like Jenny, enlist professional supports, and ensure the classroom environment and pedagogical approaches meet the needs of all children with SM. (The terms educator and teacher are utilized interchangeably throughout the article, and refer to individuals engaged in supporting the care and learning needs of children from birth to 8 years of age). …

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