Selective mutism is an inability to speak in certain social situations, although one may want or can speak in other situations. The inability to speak affects not only the social interaction with others but also the ability to perform in different situations. The silence is basically due to anxiety and not caused by a general defiance or stubbornness. Selective mutism is more common in multilingual children and there is often a hereditary factor where, for example, one of the parents may either have had the same problem or similar problems. A clear sign of selective mutism is that in some situations the child speaks completely unimpeded (often at home) and in others becomes completely silent. The condition can have negative effects on learning because the child is not able to discuss, question and reason to the same extent as other children. Selective mutism is very difficult to handle without help and it is therefore important to get professional help from a speech and language therapist and/or psychologist. This is also important since selective mutism also can occur along with other diagnoses such as language disorders and autism that may also need to be handled. The earlier the efforts are made, the greater the chance is of breaking the selective mutism.
How to think and act:
– Remove all speech demands. Requesting the child to talk creates more anxiety and can aggravate the problem.
– Avoid asking questions to the child. Questions can be perceived as demanding, as it is then expected that a proper answer will be provided. If you happen to ask a question, try to answer it yourself during the conversation.
– If the child is talking, try to act as you would with any other child. Avoid pointing out that the child is talking and focus on what the child is saying.
– Do not be afraid of uncomfortable silence but try to await the child so that he or she has the opportunity to take the initiative.
– Create situations where the child participates without having to talk. You can, for example, play Follow-the-leader or let the child control a group of children with a whistle. Maybe the child can pay in the store or take part in some sport or dance? Find what best motivates the child and reward progress.
– Let everything take time and do not stress anything.
– Do not let the anxiety dictate the rules. If the child does not want to go to a party, you may compromise and agree to go there and leave the gift. If the child after that wants to go home then it is perfectly okay.