“She’s just shy, she will grow out of it”
As a Speech and Language Therapist Beth works with children with a range of communication difficulties, including those with poor attention and listening skills, difficulty understanding and using language, poor speech sound development, fluency difficulties (stammering) and social communication needs. She also works with children with Selective Mutism (SM), a complex communication disorder and form of social anxiety. SM can have a significant impact upon a child’s social, educational and emotional development if help and treatment are not sought and received early on. SM is a phobia of speaking. It effects 1 in every 140 children and yet many people have not heard of it. Professional support for SM is varied across the country and parents can be left feeling very isolated.
So, what is SM?
Children with SM speak freely with a small number of people with whom they feel comfortable. Typically, a child with SM is able to speak at home with familiar family members, but experiences extreme anxiety about speaking outside of the home. A child may speak to certain friends at school on the playground, but is unable to speak to them in class and may be unable to speak to any teachers. The child may speak to parents at home but can only use a whispered voice when speaking to Mum and Dad at the shops, or perhaps use no voice at all.
People who do not know about or understand SM can presume that the child is being rude, stubborn or deliberately ‘putting it on’. The reality could not be further from the truth.
Isn’t it just shyness? No, not at all. Children who are shy may initially talk very quietly to a few adults and children, but in the case of at school they are more likely to talk freely once they get to know the staff and routines.
The child will simply grow out of it. Whilst this may occur in some incidences this is certainly not the norm and it cannot be left to chance that this is the outcome.
The child is choosing not to talk. SM is not a choice.
The child has experienced trauma. It is easy to assume that the child has experienced a traumatic event that has caused the mutism, but research does not support this theory. Often no single cause is established but certain factors can increase a child’s vulnerability for developing SM including gender (SM is more prevalent with girls), if the child has speech and language difficulties and if the child is learning more than one language.
What can be done to help?
Parents need to seek advice from someone who has knowledge and understanding of this complex condition. SMIRA is a charity based in Leicestershire which is an incredible source of support for families in the UK and across the world. This is a great charity to access for initial help. If you have concerns with regard to your child please do seek advice.
If you’d like to learn more, visit http://www.traintalk.org.uk/