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Selective Mutism

What is a selective mutism?

Selective mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder. It often occurs alongside developmental delays and delays in speech and language development. Most primary schools will know of at least one child with selective mutism. It is more common in girls and in children of ethnic minority populations, or in those who have recently migrated from their country of birth.

What are the signs?

A child with selective mutism may show signs of nervousness and uneasiness and struggle to speak in certain social situations. They may show  shyness, fear or social embarrassment, social isolation, seriousness, withdrawal, stubbornness or aggression.

Having selective mutism is not the same as having no verbal language (words). It is where the child does not or is unable 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 choosing not to speak but is instead 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 selective mutism – but the older they are, the longer it takes.

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.