Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is a term used when children who are able to talk comfortably to some people, usually family members and close friends, are silent or unable to talk freely when other people are present. Often the problem is not apparent until the child goes to playgroup, nursery or school.

‘Selective mutism’ used to be known as ‘elective mutism’ but it is now understood that the child’s mutism is not a choice. This is not normal shyness, it is an anxiety disorder where children have developed a phobia of talking to anyone outside their limited comfort zone e.g. family members and close friends. Their panic reaction is so extreme and frightening that they either freeze and become unable to speak or do all they can to avoid the need to talk.

This video is based on the training that we provide for families and school staff to help them understand what selective mutism is and provides advice, strategies and further links to additional information that will   help you to understand the condition and how you can help

It is recommended that if you have concerns that a child or young person may be selectively mute, that you and other adults who spend time with the child, watch the video and try out the strategies outlined for three months. if after trying the strategies you are still concerned then a referral to the speech and language therapy service can be made for specialist advice and support.

Below is a list of some of the key strategies outlined in the video. 

Strategies that may help:

  • Do not ask your child why they cannot talk. Instead acknowledge their fear of speaking, e.g. ‘I know you want to speak, but talking to new people can feel scary’.
  • Reassure your child that they will not have their fear forever, e.g. ‘You will be able to talk when you are ready, just as you do at home.’
  • Remove all pressure to speak and ensure that all associations with talking are positive.
  • Provide opportunities to speak but do not expect it.
  • Never remove the need for your child to communicate (with words or in other ways).
  • Respond positively to non-verbal communication.
  • Recognise your child’s other strengths and talk about these with them.

For further information on what selective mutism is and how to recognise it, please see the following: