As a grandmother raising mentally disabled grandchildren, I recently enrolled in a program called The Quiet Child offered by Hamilton Health Sciences, in Hamilton-Wentworth, ON, for parents or caregivers raising a child(ren) who speaks somewhat at home but not in other typical settings. My mentally disabled grandson falls into this category so I wanted to learn strategies to help him feel more confident in school, and other community settings.
Whenever my grandson is faced with speaking to an unknown adult, or even a familiar caseworker, he will often pull his hoodie over his face and roll up into a ball with embarrassment. And while this might be considered cute in a two-year old – not so much in a thirteen year old.
The first session was geared to parental introductions and the challenges our children, and each one of us as caregivers, are facing at home. Then a hand-out was passed around which asked us to rate our Quiet Child according to typical stages of Confident Speaking. We also received some general, but very informative, facts about Quiet Children, and what, we as parents, would be discussing and learning over the following weeks; plus, an introduction to our homework assignment for the next two weeks.
After the introductions, we went through the Quiet Child information together as a group, which left me amazed by my lack of realization that being quiet can be, in acute cases, actually considered a disorder called Selective Mutism. I had not heard of this disorder before which only goes to show how important it is for caregivers to pursue information when they believe their child is struggling in a specific area of their life.
The following info was provided by McMaster Children’s Hospital, Child and Youth Mental Health, Outpatient Services.
Quiet Children are shy, slow to warm up to new places, people and situations, slow to adapt to change, slow to adapt to transitions, and more likely to experience anxiety across various situations.
Our focus as parents would be:
Identifying the stages of confident speech, developing a plan to 1.) Increase our child’s comfort level with speaking in various settings. 2.) Increase our child’s comfort level with speaking with various people.
Common behaviours of the Quiet Child were identified as:
- Might not speak to staff, parent helpers, or peers
- May speak to a few “select” peers
- May speak to a parent who visits the classroom
- May communicate non-verbally
- May speak to “select” people
- May be able to make eye contact
- May appear nervous, fidgety, edgy, or hyperactive
- May appear defiant when confronted by a teacher or peer to speak
- May not eat or drink at school
- May have difficulty asking for help with toileting resulting in frequent accidents
- Contributing Factors:
- Cognitive disability
- Language Impairment – Expressive language disorder
- Anxious/Shy temperament
- Anxiety – Separation Anxiety or Social Anxiety
- Anxiety is:
- A normal emotional and physical response that occurs when we become overwhelmed by fear
- A feeling of being out of control
- A feeling that we are not capable to deal with the task at hand
Over the next few weeks we, as caregivers, would:
- Develop a collaborative team that will assist our child while moving through the stages of confident speaking
- Arrange ideal seating arrangements at school
- Arrange opportunities for increased conversations with others
- Build “Conversational ladders”
- Introduce various activities to support our child while moving through the confident speaking stages
- Arrange for, and planning, successful dates with peers
- Plan for holidays, vacations, school placement next year
Factors influencing the child’s progress:
- Shy or anxious temperament
- Length of existing stage of communication
- Severity of existing stage of communication
- Poor peer connections between home and school
- Age and developmental level
- Maintaining momentum
Overview of general strategies: (depending on the stage)
- Talk normally to the child but do not expect immediate response
- Get down to their level
- Minimize eye contact at direct questioning initially – decrease the pressure to speak (depending on stage)
- Phrase questions to allow the child to respond non-verbally (if needed)
- Minimize attention given when the child begins to speak
- Teach the child relaxation, breathing positive coping statements and model coping for them
- Be creative, use puppets, microphones, telephones
- Provide opportunities for activities that do not require spoken language regularly in the classroom
- Use the buddy system as a bridge
- Make sure the child is included in teams and group activities
- Keep the same schedule and routines for now
- Keep the child in the same small group
- Use gentle encouragement and gradual exposure as the child works through things they want to avoid
Our homework assignment for the first two weeks was to develop a Management Team by 1.) Listing the members of our child’s management team; 2.) Think about how often our team should meet. Some members of the team, it was suggested, could be the child’s teacher or E.A, members of the child’s family, and people in the community who are actively and regularly involved in the child’s life.
It was also suggested the team should meet at least once per month to discuss the child’s progress.
So my first thought was to turn to my grandson’s teacher to get his views and strategies regarding my child’s anxiousness when interacting with adults. As my grandson attends a specialized class due to disabilities, his teacher has much experience with Quiet Children and offered me several strategies used in his class and gave me permission to share them with you.
- Because the class focuses on life-skills, the students are often taken grocery shopping to buy food for a particular recipe and while there are encouraged to ask for store assistance in locating various items.
- Students are encouraged to interact with peers who share similar interests and discuss their likes and dislikes etc, about that interest.
- If a student is particularly anxious when having a conversation with a peer, they are encouraged to have something hands-on on their desk, like a stress ball, which aims to take the focus off their anxiety and make them feel more comfortable while speaking.
- The use of body language is encouraged through a friendly tap on the back or shoulder, a smile, and a word of encouragement when a child is speaking to a peer or a teacher.
After speaking with my grandson’s teacher, he suggested his class’s Friday Social Skills segment could, this week, revolve around talking comfortably with strangers. Then, a few days later, he explained that my grandson and his peers had shopped at a grocery store, during school hours, for ingredients to make soup and chili, prepared it at school, and then visited other classrooms in their school offering the food to teachers and students who would like some. The teacher reported that my grandson had completed the task well, speaking appropriately to staff and other children, while making eye contact and conversation. All good news!
The program The Quiet Child runs for six sessions. If you live in Hamilton, Ontario, or surrounding areas, call 905-521-2100 ext. 77295 for information or to register. If you would like to browse a current issue of the Growing Together Guide which lists programs for parents, youth, and children offered through Hamilton Health Sciences, visit communityed.ca, or if you would like assistance from agencies that support children, youth and families with behavioural, emotional or development concerns, call CONTACT Hamilton at 905-570-8888 for help in locating appropriate services.