Ruby* has been diagnosed with selective mutism. She is non-verbal outside of the family home. One of our Family Support Workers tells us about her work with Ruby…
When Ruby came to us, she had already been diagnosed with selective mutism. There were no other issues around her behaviour, and she enjoys school and takes part as best as she can. However she does not speak to adults. My first port of call was to speak to Ruby’s parents to get a picture of their family life and Ruby’s lived experience. The willingness of her parents to be transparent about their home life was essential for me to create a picture of Ruby’s world. We went into great detail about situations where Ruby felt comfortable to use her voice and when she did not. I also observed her in her classroom and in the playground.
My assessment of Ruby’s needs continued in my first 5 sessions with her. Using play and art, we worked on building trust in our therapeutic relationship. During these sessions I would encourage Ruby to express herself about her feelings and her likes/dislikes. For example Ruby would draw a picture and then I would ask her to describe what’s happing in the picture to me, which she really enjoys doing. The first time that Ruby spoke to me was during our second session, when I asked her if she could whisper her favourite colour and her best friends name in my ear.
We have made a “Talking Ladder” together and she has put the things she finds hard to do at the top – e.g. talking in front of her class – and the things she finds easiest to do at the bottom – e.g. talking to her family – with a few other things in between. This term we will attempt to give Ruby the tools to attempt some of the harder goals. Our plan for this term is to focus on Ruby’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour, and how they are all linked together. We will use CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) activities to delve deeper into the thoughts that bring up her anxiety in certain situations; the feelings they cause and the behaviour that follows. We will then try to challenge those negative thoughts by substituting them with more helpful reasoning. We will be creating a picture journal, where Ruby will draw the highlights of her week and then share them with her class teacher before our next session.
We have created a picture journal to help Ruby practice communicating with her teacher on a one-to-one basis, by using her words. This method also allows her to showcase her creative side which is one of her hobbies. Ruby will receive praise and positive responses from her teacher, this in turn will help to boost her confidence and motivate her to continue trying to use her words. Ruby says “I’m really good at drawing. I could draw every day!”.
Welcare staff saw this happen during our sessions this summer. Ruby was shy at first, but staff supported her to use her creativity and take part, which she did. By the end of the week Ruby was talking to the other children and to staff members. She also took part in our fashion show!
Ruby’s journey has just begun, but with the support of family, School and Welcare she, is being encouraged to use her skills and showcase her talents. When children are shown empathy and unconditional positive regard, their inner strength is able to break barriers. Welcare staff witnessed this during our work with Ruby and we will be their to support Ruby on her journey of self-discovery!
*names have been changed