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Article 5

Understanding Selective Mutism has always been a challenge for both professionals and parents.

Selective Mutism is a complex childhood anxiety disorder characterised by a child’s difficulty to speak and communicate effectively in select social settings.

A child with Selective Mutism will talk at some times and in some places but not in others. This might start when a child goes to school but may start at a younger age. Selective mutism may also continue into adulthood.

What causes Selective Mutism?

All experts from different fields that treat SM regard it as a fear (phobia) of talking to certain people and under certain circumstances. Another factor is that children with SM are very shy or afraid to embarrass themselves in public, or want to be alone and not talk to friends or other people.

Speech and language therapy is one of the therapies that can help a child with SM.

Some techniques that we follow are:

  • Stimulus fading, where we slowly introduce the child into situations that are less comfortable speaking in.
  • Shaping is another technique where we always give a reward to the child for trying to communicate.
  • Self-modeling technique. We may ask parents to take videos or audio recordings of the child talking in a comfortable situation. Those clips we can then use them in places or situations where the child is usually uncomfortable speaking.

As speech and language therapists we always reinforce communication, in the case of SM we reinforce the verbal one. We visit the different communication environments that the child assists, the social settings where SM is more present and we always work and collaborate with other professionals from different areas.

For parents we have lots of tips and some of them are:

  • Ensure that your child feels valued and secure.
  • Try to reduce embarrassment or anger about your child’s behaviour.
  • Educate family and friends about the nature of your child’s difficulties.
  • Build confidence by focusing on your child’s achievements.
  • Keep busy and have a routine.
  • Provide an escape route.
  • Establish safe boundaries with your child so they can take small steps forward.

For more information and help, please, contact me! I´d be glad to help!

Sofía Zelou