Selective Mutism occurs when children who can speak and understand language perfectly normally at home are unable to speak elsewhere e.g. school or nursery. Unusually, there are many more girls who have selective mutism. It's also apparent that when boys display this condition they often have other social interaction or learning problems as well.
Selective Mutism used to be known as elective mutism, as people including professionals believed that children were choosing not to speak, and were therefore thought to be challenging and manipulative. The term Selective Mutism reflects current understanding that the children’s silence is not something they can control. It can be seen as a type of extreme social anxiety or phobia.
Michael Jones, specialist speech and language therapist has done a lot of work on this subject. This is an extract from his excellent article featured on his website.
How does selective mutism (SM) develop?Michael says that 'SM can begin as shyness, but for various reasons children become progressively unable to speak in public, and especially at pre-school or in school. No single cause has been identified, though emotional, psychological and social factors may play a strong part. In some cases trauma can be an important factor, perhaps in school or hospital. Some children with SM are also anxious about new or unfamiliar situations and activities, and may be overly worried about taking risks.
Children may have other behaviours, such as limited eye contact and facial expression, physical rigidity, nervous fidgeting and withdrawal. SM often develops as children get older. It may not always improve spontaneously, and in some cases can become an intractable condition that severely limits young people’s life chances.
How can children be helped?Early identification and appropriate support is of vital importance. If a child is not speaking at pre-school or school after a period of ‘settling in’ then a Speech and Language Therapist should be consulted. The most important form of help is to establish good links between home, school and any professionals who are involved. Maggie Johnson and Alison Wintgens, two Speech and Language Therapists, have produced a practical and comprehensive book about SM. ‘The Selective Mutism Resource Manual’ offers practical and effective strategies for helping children and young people with anxiety about talking in public. Their approach to developing confident speaking is a comprehensive guide to research and literature about SM, as well as offering effective advice to parents and professionals.
Maggie and Alison identify two very important ideas: that children with SM do want to talk, but need help to become confident speakers; children need a step-by-step approach that involves the family and school working closely together'. read more at http://talk4meaning.myhomepagemanager.com/selectivemutism.php
The Selective Mutism Information and Research Association (SMIRA) support families and schools by providing information and advice. Their DVD ‘Silent Children: Approaches to Selective Mutism’ is an excellent introduction to SM and to effective strategies.