As mentioned in my previous blog post, Selective Mutism is a phobia of talking which results in the individual experiencing high levels of anxiety in some situations where they are expected to speak.
In order to help children and young people to feel less anxious, there are a number of adaptations we can make to the environment which can help to reduce their anxiety. It is important to ensure that the environment is supportive before starting any specific intervention.
- Commentary style talk – this is useful to support all children’s language development but is also important to reduce anxiety for children with Selective Mutism. Making comments ensures that you are still communicating with the child without putting direct pressure on them by asking them a question. Comments which start with statements such as ‘I think…’ or ‘I wonder…’ can also offer opportunity for the child to join in if they feel able to.
- Encourage participation – it is important that children still feel included and they should be offered alternative ways to participate that do not put pressure on them to talk. Allow them to answer in other ways as appropriate. For example, can they show you their answer by pointing e.g. at a number in maths? It’s important to find out what the child is comfortable with, as for many children with Selective Mutism, initiating any form of communication is difficult.
- Give choices – this can help a child with joining in. It can be useful to talk to the child about possible options e.g. for morning news – they could bring a picture to show the class or have something written down for the teacher to read. This can be discussed and pre-planned.
- Home-school diary – this can be a useful way of the child communicating with school and could be used for morning news as above.
- Talk to the child about talking – tell the child that you know they find it tricky to talk sometimes and that’s ok. Reassure them that you will not expect them to join in with talking and they can still participate in other ways.
- Sitting with friends – if the child has a good friend try and allow them to sit together as much as possible. This will help to reduce the child’s anxiety and may lead to them feeling more able to join in.
- Have fun – find out what the child enjoys doing and ensure there are times throughout the week that they are able to do that e.g. looking at books, drawing pictures.
All adults in the child’s environment need to be aware of Selective Mutism and that the child is experiencing anxiety around talking.
This will ensure that there is no pressure on the child to talk and that everyone is supportive.
It may be possible to arrange for a Speech and Language Therapist to share information directly with school staff in a short training session e.g. at a staff meeting.
It is also useful that staff are aware of Selective Mutism, particularly when children first start school so they know the signs to look out for and how to provide support.