Selective Mutism

What is selective mutism?

Children with selective mutism (SM) can speak well in some situations, but remain silent in others. Children usually talk freely at home, with family members, but find themselves unable to talk outside their home. Some children can only talk with their parents and brothers and sisters.

Most children with SM are girls, and boys with SM often have other difficulties with communication and learning. Children with SM often describe themselves as feeling physically unable to speak: even feeling a physical blockage in their throat, though none in fact exists. Children may have no other identifiable problems and make progress at school in areas where speaking is not required, though their inability to talk in school presents them, and the adults who work with them, with significant challenges.

Selective Mutism was originally known as elective mutism, as 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.

Selective Mutism information leaflet

To link to an information website for NHS professionals click here.

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