What is selective mutism?
Selective mutism (or reluctant speaking) is a condition where children can talk comfortably in some situations (such as in the home) but not others (such as playgroup, preschool or school). It is a form of anxiety disorder and is a psychological problem related to fear of others hearing them speak. It is not due to shyness or stubbornness. Selective mutism affects more girls and boys and usually starts between the ages of 3 and 5.
What might I notice if a child has selective mutism?
Your child will be silent in a situation (such as at school or nursery) for at least one month.
Some children may appear ‘frozen’ in some social settings, and unable to interact at all. Other children may be happy to communicate non-verbally, such as through pointing, gestures or facial expressions, but do not talk. Reluctant speakers may talk, but in a very limited way to communicate (e.g. by only whispering single words to a trusted adult).
How does the Bucks SLT service support children and young people with selective mutism?
We can help best if the problem is identified early. Our service will first talk to parents, and may see them without the child being present. It can be helpful to bring along a video to this meeting (but please make sure your child is aware you are recording them, and will share this with the Speech and Language Therapist). Our service will advise on how settings such as schools can make small changes which can help the child or young person. We can also support key workers to follow a structured programme to help a child gain confidence in speaking. Parents and school staff are usually the ones working directly with the child, so are the best people to run the programme on a daily basis.
It is important that those working with the child:
- understand what selective mutism is
- In a relaxed manner, openly acknowledge that the child has difficulties but these are temporary
- remove pressure on the child to speak
- encourage and accept communication by any means (not just speaking)
- Can I tell you about Selective Mutism? Maggie Johnson & Alison Wintgens, 2012. Jessica Kingsley Publications
- Helping children find their voice when starting school