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Recent presentation at Saratoga Springs school highlights rare disorder

Speaking out on mutism

Dr. Alan J. Barnett, a psychologist from Clifton Park, presenteda workshop on selective mutism on February 7 for the Saratoga Springs CitySchool district.

Dr. Alan J. Barnett, a psychologist from Clifton Park, presenteda workshop on selective mutism on February 7 for the Saratoga Springs CitySchool district.

Realizing a child’s special needs isn’t always a straightforward process, especially when that need includes silence.

The Saratoga Springs City School District is among many in the country that offers services for special needs students and includes IEPs, or individual educational plans, in order to help those students. Recently, the district hosted Dr. Alan J. Barnett, a psychologist from Clifton Park, whospoke on the topic of selective mutism at a Tuesday, Feb. 7, presentation.

Barnett spoke before an audience of almost 40 that includedspeech and language pathologists, school psychologists, parents, teachers andother professionals in the district. Selective mutism is a rare disorder which affects mostly children who are normally capable of speech, but unable to speak in certain situations, including school. The workshop included information on treatment strategies for children in school settings.

“Selective mutism is actually quite rare, affecting 0.3 to 0.8percent of children, per 1,000. It’s been known since the 1880s but the name has changed since then. At one time it was known as elective mutism,” said Barnett.

Most often this condition affects girls and is detected ataround age 6. By that time, said Barnett, the child has had the opportunity to be using language as communication in different situations. A teacher may look for a child who has been developing normally, talks fine at home, but may not talk at all in school – or is very selective about who he or she does talk to in school.

Barnett has been in practice for over 40 years. In that time he said he’s seen approximately 35 children with selective mutism.

He also said teachers and professionals should not jump on such a diagnosis too soon. This is one of the reasons that it isn’t labeled as such until a child has been in school and other social situations.

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