Mariella Hines is a 9 year-old African-American girl attending the 3rd grade in the JFK School. She was referred to the School Psychologist because she has recently become very withdrawn during class, refusing to speak to anyone, including her teacher and peers. Previously she seemed to have age-appropriate social skills, Interacting well at school. Her withdrawal started suddenly. Manella’s teacher, Mrs. Levine, called Mariella’s mother to find out more information, but her mother said that Manella seems fine at home.
The School Psychologist faxed MariellaS mother a Consent Form and discussed with Ms. Hines over the phone a psychological assessment that was planned for Mariella. Ms. Hines understood the reasons for the assessment and what tests would be used with Mariella. She asked several questions, which the School Psychologist answered. Ms. Hines then signed the Consent Form, scanned it, and emailed it back to the School Psychologist. When Mariella was brought to the Psychologist’s office, Manella would not speak or make eye contact with the Psychologist.
Martella played silently with some dolls that were in the office. The Psychologist noticed that Mariella seemed anxious, so she said, “Mariella, nothing bad will happen when you talk to me. ” Mariella looked at the Psychologist for the first time and tears rolled down her cheeks. The Psychologist offered Mariella a large stuffed poodle, and Manella hugged it tightly. Then the Psychologist said, “l mean it, Manella, it’s safe to talk in here with me. ” After a few minutes hugging the poodle. Manella asked, “What’s his name”.
The psychologist responded, “Mr. Friend. ” Following this, a more normal conversation and a playtime ensued. Mariella remained mute, however, in her classroom. So the Psychologist saw her again the next day. During this time, she told Mariella that she had some fun games for them to play, and also some work that was like schoolwork. With this Introduction, the Psychologist administered an IQ test to Manella. The IQ test revealed that Marlena had average to above-average intelligence in most areas, but a deficit in verbal reasoning skills.
Her understanding of words was very concrete for someone her age. The Psychologist called Marlella’s mother, and reported the progress and findings so far. This time, the Psychologist asked more questions, guided by her findings. She asked where Manella’s father is, and learned that the couple was divorced. The Psychologist also learned that Martella had spent a weekend with her father Just prior to the beginning of her unusual behavior at school. So the Psychologist asked for contact information for Manella’s father, and she called him.
After some hould do about a boy in school who kept teasing her, calling her a “fat pig” and a “whale”. Her dad had told her that the best way to avoid being hurt by other people was “don’t say anything. ” When the Psychologist learned this, she recognized that because of Mariella’s concrete understanding of words, it is possible she mistook her father’s counsel to mean that she should Just stop talking altogether at school. The Psychologist decided to bring Mariella into group therapy at the school. She obtained Ms. Hines’ consent for treatment.
She explained to Mariella that group was special, safe place, where nothing bad would happen when she talked to the other kids. Mariella was timid at first, but as the meeting progressed, Mariella seemed to relax and say more. She was being exposed to other children without negative consequences, so her anxiety was reduced. Mariella was still silent in the classroom, however. So the Psychologist met with Mrs. Levine, and they analyzed the environment using the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. They developed an ABA intervention, where Mariella would first spend 1 time with Mrs.
Levine and would be positively reinforced for speaking in that setting. Then she would be positively reinforced for any communication in the classroom, such as nodding “yes” or making eye contact with Mrs. Levine. Using small steps, Mariella’s behavior would be shaped over several days so that she would become more comfortable talking again in the classroom. Mrs. Levine and the Psychologist spoke at the end of each day to adjust the intervention based on Mariella’s responses. It worked. One week later, Manella was interacting again normally in the classroom and with her friends.