"No way would my dad, mother, grandmother, grandfather, or anyone help me."
Really, really, yeah, this is what nine-year-old mute Harold, who arrived in my Mayo Clinic classroom eventually conceded, He had consciously chosen mutism when asked for responses.
The first day, it was the clamped closed mouth expression. I made no mention of it, but instituted writing notes, sticking post-its on his papers, or including him, generally, in group activities. He behaved and complied unexpectedly well. Our written notes strategy was successful; but, on completion of assignments he soon saw "ask me" for his favorite choice of reinforcement. I postured total unawareness when he approached. We seldom made eye contact. If he let out an inaudible squeak I would say, "Yes, your work is complete. I insist you take a break." With a snickering sneer he would bound to his choice of leisure. (Methought, "Harold, you had talked without hearers and shut out society")
Harold progressed. He asked his nursing staff if he could play with the objects in my "museum" office - off limits to him. I heeded his request with a contingency. He must play quietly;). He was required to say at least three sentences about each object before exchanging it for the next. His comments alluded to an angry father and mother not supporting him when he felt that he needed them.
However, one verbal exchange became lengthy on how to make a Jacob's ladder toy. This needed square pieces of wood and ribbon to inter-lay between wood in and over-under pattern allowing the pieces to fold and close in a ladder-like sequence. He agreed, in time, that he had gifts of observation and artistic ability. He could draw pictures and had even used an old deck of playing cards to copy my Jacob's Ladder. Not the same quality as the Appalachian people who had made mine (passed down from my mother-in-law), but he had the same ingenuity. I reminded him that he could climb the ladder to living 'okay' when he felt unsupported. Keep Jacob" in his pocket along with the doodle pad for drawing whatever he felt.
Harold's parents realized the in-person interactions, post-it notes, stickers, silently or orally would help make living 'okay'. They could all climb the ladder together. Listen.
Really, really, yeah!
Kaye is a teacher and author of multiple works including Valerie Valentine Visits Vincent Vampire