Selective Mutism by Becky Harrison

What is Selective Mutism?

Selective Mutism is a phobia of talking in certain social situations. The child wants to talk in that situation, but can’t! In contrast, the child will talk happily and freely in other social situations. For example, a child may not talk within the school building, but talks at home without any difficulty. It is this difference between these situations which is a key characteristic of Selective Mutism.

 What to look out for:

  • Physical clues – the child may appear tense or freeze.
  • Compare how much the child talks in different environments – e.g. school building, playground, home, shop.
  • How long? – If it is a new setting then the child must have not been talking in that setting for at least 2 months.
  • Learning a new language – Children who are learning a new language often experience a ‘silent period’ whilst they are building their confidence with using English.
  • If a child isn’t able to talk freely in any context then this may be due to other factors such as speech and language difficulties rather than Selective Mutism.

 How to help:

  • Do not answer for your child. Wait for a few seconds and if there isn’t any response then make it a private conversation between you and your child. You might want to make it easier for her to answer by giving her a choice. If she still doesn’t answer then move the conversation on.
  • Do not ask the child why they aren’t talking.
  • Stay calm – the calmer you are, the calmer your child will be.
  • Try to avoid asking lots of direct questions.

How do Speech and Language Therapists help?

Speech and language therapists work alongside the child, parents and school staff to help children with Selective Mutism to feel more confident when talking at school. This may involve:

  • Building up rapport.
  • Generating small talking steps/goals.
  • Slowly increasing the number of people the child feels comfortable talking to.
  • Educating school staff about how to support the child.
  • Changing the school environment.

Becky Harrison

Speech and Language Therapist