What is a reluctant talker? 

Reluctant talking (also known as selective mutism) is a childhood anxiety disorder. It can frequently occur alongside developmental delays and delays in speech and language development. Most primary schools will know of at least one reluctant talker. It's more common in girls and children of ethnic minority populations, or in those who have recently migrated from their country of birth. 

What are the signs?

A child who is a reluctant talker may show signs of nervousness, uneasiness and social awkwardness along with a failure to speak in certain social environments. They may show excessive shyness, fear or social embarrassment, social isolation, seriousness, withdrawal, stubbornness or aggression. 

Being a reluctant talker is not the same as having no verbal language (words). It is where the child does not or is reluctant to speak in at least one social setting but is able to speak, and does speak, in other situations, such as at home with a parent or carer.

It is important to understand that the child is not voluntarily refusing to speak but is literally unable to speak, feeling frozen. Over time, they learn to anticipate the situations that provoke these feelings and do all they can to avoid them. 

How does treatment works?

With support from a speech and language therapist, most children overcome reluctant talking - but the older they are, the longer it takes. They should gradually progress from relaxing in their school or nursery, to saying single words and sentences to one person, before eventually being able to speak freely to all people in all settings.

Treatment does not focus on the speaking itself, but focuses on reducing the anxiety that your child has for speaking to and being overheard by people outside their immediate circle of family and friends.

Useful links

NHS Choices: Information on Selective Mutism (Reluctant Talkers)

Selective Mutism Information and Research Association (SMIRA)