What is Selective Mutism?
Imagine feeling so scared of what other people think of you that you weren't able to show them what you think, what you need or anything about you. Try to remain silent for a whole day while trying to do your normal life, not speaking to anyone, even if you want or need anything, don't say it. How would you feel in the end of the day? Imagine someone who lives like that everyday. That is how someone with SM feels
Selective Mutism is an anxiety disorder that can affect people of all ages, although initial onset is usually around the age of 3-5 years. The essential feature of selective mutism is the persistent failure to speak in specific social situations (e.g. at school, with peers and/or the teacher), despite being able to speak in other, more familiar situations. There is a tendency to assume that these children are just shy or stubborn, but it has been shown that the opposite is often true. In an environment where the child feels completely safe and free to express themselves, they can become a different child entirely.
Some children find it impossible to speak in school or even to some family members without the appropriate support or intervention taking place that can give them the strategies to overcome selective mutism. These children cannot ask for a drink, or to go to the toilet. They cannot tell you when they are feeling ill or if they have bumped their knee. "My tummy feels like jelly and my words just get stuck" says Daniel aged 7. "I have lots of ideas in my head but I can't share them. It's really frustrating (especially when people are doing it wrong & I can't tell them!)"Without an appropriate intervention in place a child with selective mutism may not improve.
The earlier selective mutism can be identified, the better the chance of a consistent recovery. When an intervention is started at an early age, a child has a much better chance of overcoming selective mutism in its entirety. For a younger child, a successful intervention to try is the ‘sliding-in technique’ which involves a gradual exposure of talking within a safe environment with a key worker. The most important aspect of working with a child with selective mutism is to remove the expectation to speak and allow them the opportunities to experiment if they feel comfortable doing so.
How will you know if you have a child with selective mutism in your setting? For those children with classic selective mutism they will be unable to speak to others. In addition to this, they may also find it difficult to look at you, appear stiff and awkward in their movement or you may find that they struggle to smile or may look expressionless. Some children with selective mutism can also be highly sensitive, both emotionally (to comments made by others) and physically (to sounds and smells), and appear to be perfectionists, becoming frustrated at mistakes they believe they have made. Also, you should be aware of those children who are quiet and find conversation difficult to initiate. These children are at a higher risk of developing selective mutism as they progress through school.