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Selective Mutism

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 9 Aug 2015 | comments*Discuss
Selective Mutism selectively Mute

Selective Mutism occurs when children who are otherwise able to speak and understand language are unable to speak in specific social settings. For example, a selectively mute child may speak at home but be unable to speak at nursery or school. It is believed that Selective Mutism is related to anxiety, in particular specific phobias, but it remains accepted that selectively mute children are actually afraid of speaking and the social interactions that are necessitated by speaking with others. Selective Mutism usually begins in children under 5 years of age, though it may only become noticeable when a child begins school. Seeking a diagnosis of and treatment for Selective Mutism as soon as it is observed is important before it becomes a “habit” that a child can’t – or won’t – break.

Signs and Symptoms of Selective Mutism
Children with Selective Mutism are unable to speak in specific social settings. These children are often able to verbalise as appropriate for their age in settings in which they are comfortable, such as in family homes, but lose the ability to do so in other, usually public, settings. Very often Selective Mutism can be highly frustrating and embarrassing for a child, only adding to his/her public discomfort.

Diagnosis of Selective Mutism
Selective Mutism can only be formally diagnosed by a qualified child mental health professional. Selective Mutism must be diagnosed according to specific guidelines, including that the child does not speak in specific settings, that the child can speak normally in alternate settings, that the child’s inability to speak interferes with the child’s ability to function in the setting, that the child’s inability to speak has lasted for at least six months and that the child’s inability to speak is not related to another behavioural, mental or communication disorder.

Treatment for Selective Mutism
Selective Mutism should be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible. Treatment for Selective Mutism focuses on lowering the anxiety that the child has for speaking in a particular setting. Treatment does not focus on the speaking itself, nor should anyone’s attention. Instead, behavioural therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and play therapy will often be used in treatment plans and medication may be used also. In some cases family therapy may be recommended as well.

Living with Selective Mutism
Relatives and friends of children diagnosed with Selective Mutism can have a major impact on the success of treatment for this disorder. Providing love, support and patience, offering verbal and emotional encouragement, serving a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise are all things that others can do to support children with Selective Mutism. At no time should a child suffering from Selective Mutism be expected or prompted to talk, and instead attention should be focused on making the child feel comfortable and confident in social settings.

Selective Mutism is a disorder in which children are cable of speaking appropriately for their age, but are unable to do so in specific settings. Selective Mutism is often closely related to anxiety and specific phobias, and treatment of Selective Mutism addresses these concerns rather than the child’s actual speech and speaking patterns. Parents interested in learning more about Selective Mutism should speak with a GP or professional child mental health professional.

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our grand daughter aged 5years has recently stopped talking to myself and wife, we finding this a stressfull situation not only for us but our whole family.our son her father took his own life 2years 4months ago,not only upsetting ourselves and family hugely does anybody think it too has effected our grand daughter as regarding her mutism./weve been told that she speakes at scool and at her home .weve read this could last up to 5 years,we hope not we find this whole eppisode dramatically sreesfull, can anybody help please.
n/a - 9-Aug-15 @ 2:24 PM
@BJs. I would report this to your local authority. The school does not sound as though it is doing all it can to help. It may be that a specific learning mentor or support assistant could help. If you're not happy, ask at other schools in your area to see what their policies would be in your situation and apply for a school place elsewhere.
KidsBehaviour - 13-May-15 @ 2:00 PM
Son has selective mutism since 4. Had help through primary school with other children helping him by passing messages to teachers and staff and two year younger sister being 'his voice'. Since secondary school In year 8&9 has suffered bullying to the point of view of self harming and very bad depression, which he has now under mental health services. The school will not accept SM as he will interact with a couple of teachers, who just think he's shy. They will not acknowledge all the taunting and name calling he has in70% of lessons. They keep telling him to talk to myself or certain teachers when incidents happen but it can be weeks before I know,as now, of course he's a teenager too and I'm also disabled and I cannot do as much. I cannot find any books regarding older children or is it just become a habit now, which wouldn't include all the routines and phobias etc. any advice welcome.
BJ - 8-May-15 @ 3:30 PM
I was interested to read about selective mutism as when I was a child I didn't speak at school until I was sent to a boarding school for retarded children. The anxiety I suffered from the first day at primary school from bullying and being shut in the toilets contributed to me and my sister both not talking at school for about five years. We grew up in the 50s and were seen by educational pshychologists who tried to make us talk but they never got to the root of the problem so I suffered a diminished education when I knew as an adult I could have done better.
VICKI - 3-Jul-11 @ 1:58 PM
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