Selective Mutism Management Strategies

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Selective Mutism Management

Selective Mutism is an anxiety disorder and it is therefore imperative to avoid escalating the child's anxiety when working with them. In all aspects of encouraging communication it is important to make very small steps in what is expected of the child. Equally, progress at any time is always fragile and an anxious event can easily reverse any gains made. The role of all adults supporting the child is to help build social confidence in a range of situations and resilience in the face of increasing demands. At all times it is necessary to know what the child considers socially safe and to ensure that most of their day is within this boundary. It is then from this safe position that the child is encouraged to take social risks that incrementally increase their communication with others. The same behaviour must then be repeated many times until the child feels safe and the next small step is possible.

Below are a range of strategies that can be useful in supporting children with selective mutism.

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Supporting pre-school and younger children

Key worker meets with child every day

Joining in with a young child's play

Encouraging non-verbal communication e.g. nodding and shaking head

Encouraging non-verbal noises as part of games and activities e.g. clapping, animal noises

Casual encouragements to contribute a spoken response. E.g. My favourite colour is blue, I wonder what yours is? Pause, briefly to allow time for a possible response. If received, say something positive about what they said but not that they spoke. E.g. Green. Oh, I like green as well. If they don't respond then continue casually with a comment that invites a yes/no answer that they can deliver through a nod or shake of the head. E.g. Is your favourite colour red? If the child is reluctant to nod or shake head they can be invited to point to a picture or object.

Avoiding situations where there is an audience other than key worker

When a trusting relationship has been established with a key worker and the child is beginning to respond in 1-1 context try activities designed to develop language skills. E.g. A game of matching pictures to the written word. The adults speaks the word and holds up the word and the child then selects the right picture from a selection. Repeat this activity over a few days ensuring the child is fully confident in matching pictures. When confident introduce new game where the child is invited to speak the word when showed each picture. Praise is given for correct answers not for speaking.

A programme of support should only change one variable to avoid triggering anxiety in the child.

When progress is made give time to consolidate before building on it. Slow progress is more likely to be sustained.

Regular whole class activities that involve repetitive chants, rhymes and actions. No attention is given to the selective mute joining in or not.

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Supporting Older Children

Strategies above for younger children may still be suitable.

Use of sound recorders to rehearse and record what the child wants to say. This is then played in the context causing anxiety such as class discussions and Show and Tell.

Priming the child in advance so they have time to prepare and rehearse answers and contributions.

Use of verbal scaffolding such as stem sentences E.g. My favourite food is...

Giving responsibility within class such as handing out resources which develops confidence with peers.

Activities to build self-esteem

Hearing a younger child read

Teaching playground games

Ensuring that when the regular staff are absent that cover staff are familiar with the child's needs.

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You may also be interested in the following pages:

Index of playground and group games

Oracy Resources

Ten Things To Do  To Support Selective Mutism

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