Selective mutism is a tricky area that falls into the realm of Speech Pathology and Psychology. It is a condition where a child chooses to speak in some conditions but not others. The child may be comfortable speaking in certain circumstances with certain people, but not with others. This may be due to Social anxiety which is treated by a Psychologist or a deficit in Language and Social skills which requires treatment by a speech pathologist.
Treatment for selective mutism must be approached in a delicate manner in order to avoid creating further hurdles in communicating with the child. There are a few general points to keep in mind when interacting with children with selective mutism including:
Building trust and good rapport
Choose engaging and fun activities to gain the child’s trust before attempting to desensitise them into using verbal conversation. Make sure to provide plenty of positive phrases and imitate their actions to build rapport. It is important to go slowly to allow these children to overcome their fears at a reasonable pace with someone they trust.
Reinforce positive behaviour
Engage the child in motivating situations such as games, to encourage and motivate them to make verbal responses, and positively reinforce verbal communication with praise and rewards.
Provide opportunities for communication
In many cases, adults interacting with children who are selectively mute will try and fill the awkward silences with the interactions by answering for the child, or rephrasing the question so they can answer with gestures such as nodding to indicate ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
While it is done with good intention, this type of interaction not only encourages non-verbal behaviour but also lowers the amount of opportunities that the child has to speak. It is important to ask questions that require the child to respond with an answer and do not just require a yes or no answer.
Use video recording
Record the child speaking effectively with other family members or friends to increase self-confidence and encourage them to speak in other situations.
For specific approaches and methods such as fading stimuli or shaping to help treat selective mutism, take your child to receive treatment from a qualified speech pathologist.
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This article was written by our Speech Pathologist Ashleigh Fattah who is a Speech Pathology Australia member. If you have speech pathology related questions, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with simple and effective therapy targeted to your concerns.