Selective Mutism is usually first recognised in people aged between 3 to 8 years old. This is when you cannot speak in certain places such as school or when you have to meet people that you don’t know. It is not something that you have decided to do because you just don’t want to speak or because you don’t understand what they are saying but more that you feel so anxious or stressed that you can’t respond. You will probably find that you are able to talk normally when you are at home or in other places where you feel comfortable and safe. You may also feel comfortable talking with people that you know well or feel safe around.
As well as finding it hard to talk, you may also find it hard to make eye contact or feel frozen and unable to move when people are talking to you or when you are expected to talk to others. This could be something that you have always had trouble with or it could have started to happen recently. Either way, it is your body’s way of saying “I am not happy and I feel uncomfortable”. You may have begun to notice that your behaviour is different to that of the other people in your class. Don’t worry. Many young people feel this way and you may find that things get better with time.
- Are you unable to speak in certain places such as at school but find it easy to talk at home?
- Are you able to talk to people you are comfortable with such as parents?
- Do you find it hard to make eye contact with people that you don’t feel comfortable with such as teachers?
- Can you understand what they are saying but you are unable to respond?
If you can answer “yes” to any of the above questions, you may be experiencing selective mutism.
Key facts about selective mutism
Not everyone agrees that SM is in fact an anxiety disorder. In most cases there is a significant element of anxiety that underpins the condition, but not always – indeed there can be other major factors involved.
It is fair to say that there is no uniform theory about how selective mutism develops, how it should be assessed nor how it should be treated. There is also inconsistency about defining selective mustism (who has it, who doesn’t).
It is recommended that those with selective mutism are referred to their local CAMHS service as such cases would typically meet CAMHS thresholds.
Some helpful tips which families can do to support a person with selective mutism:
- Be patient – getting annoyed won’t help
- Encourage the child to step out of their comfort zone in tiny, baby steps. E.g. the first step might be to whisper a few words to someone. When that person has gone, parents should really praise their child warmly for this achievement however care must be taken when doing this as some children do not want a ‘fuss’ to be made of them. This same step can be repeated in school (again, however, other children and teachers etc, may need to be advised beforehand not to make a fuss of the child)
- Join a support group see www.SMIRA.org.uk (Selective Mutism Information and Research Association) for more.
Visit www.selectivemutism.co.uk for more information, advice and support.