Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is an anxiety response in that it is a fear of speaking stemming from acute anxiety about the consequences of using speech. It is sometimes descried as a phobia.

Selective mutism is fairly rare; lots of CYP are naturally fairly quiet and this should not be mistaken for selective mutism.

DO NOT punish a CYP for not speaking - this will fuel the anxiety -  instead reward any attempts at communication even if speech isn't used.  Building a trusting relationship is key to encouraging the CYP to use speech to communicate. 

General strategies

DO NOT PRESSURISE THE CYP TO SPEAK - this is an anxiety based difficulty

Try non-verbal activities which require expelling air and using the mouth, e.g. blowing out candles, blowing bubbles, blowing ping-pong balls with a straw, breathing on a mirror, mouth ‘popping’, tongue ‘clicking’ etc

Encourage self-expression through creative, imaginative and artistic activities 

Make sound effects when reading stories and allow CYP to join in

Use puppets / soft toys

Design activities to focus on the senses to encourage self awareness

Try the use of dictaphones / voice recorders

Have fun with sounds - through musical instruments / balloons / tubes etc

Work closely with parents / carers

Using gestures / facial expressions instead of words

Replicate the gestures to let the CYP know that you are interested in understanding them and build relationships

Allow a gesture for answering registers

Try pairing with a 'buddy'

Build on areas of interest and don't make a big thing out of any sounds that may be made

Reward and praise any achievements made; not just with speaking

Seems to 'shut down' or 'freeze'

Sit at the front of a class to ease the anxiety

Be patient - model a gesture if the CYP is really struggling

Play games where there is quiet noise such as row your boat, snakes and ladders etc

Don't put the CYP on the spot with a required spoken response

Do reassure the CYP that they will be alright and that all of us have anxiety speaking in some situations