Supporting Young People With Situational (Selective) Mutism

Guidance notes for using the Situational (Selective) Mutism Framework

Situational (selective) mutism is a severe anxiety disorder where a person is unable to speak in certain social situations, such as with classmates at school or to relatives they do not see very often.

It usually starts during childhood and can persist into adulthood. The earlier the selective mutism is noticed and support strategies put in place, the less likely it is that the anxiety will persist or worsen.

A child or adult with selective mutism does not refuse or choose not to speak at certain times, they’re literally unable to speak in certain circumstances. 

The expectation to talk to certain people triggers a freeze response with feelings of panic, like a bad case of stage fright, and talking is impossible.

In time, the person will learn to anticipate the situations that provoke this distressing reaction and do all they can to avoid them.

However, people with selective mutism may be able to speak freely in specific “safe” environments or to certain people, such as close family and friends, when nobody else is around to trigger the freeze response. 

Selective mutism affects about 1 in 140 young children. It’s more common in girls and children who are learning a second language, such as those who’ve recently migrated from their country of birth.

Although it is not regarded as a common  condition, it can be extremely debilitating for the child or adult experiencing it. Therefore, it is important that parents and professionals have the knowledge about what it is and how to support a person who is struggling with this condition as early detection and help can make a huge difference.

This framework has been devised by health and education professionals within Cambridgeshire and Peterborough who have consulted with parent support services in order to ensure that it is easy to follow and offers clear guidance on how to support a child or young person.

To increase your awareness of what situational mutism is please do read through the framework  and view the first video about how to detect it early on, even if you are not concerned about a child at present. There may be children or young people that you encounter who are beginning to struggle with selective mutism and the earlier it is detected the earlier support can be put in place for them.  The second video provides more detailed guidance around setting up an intervention where the mutism has become more embedded. The training is supported by supplementary information in the “Selective Mutism Manual” (Maggie Johnson) – it is strongly recommended settings invest in this resource.

A diagnosis is not needed for the adults around the child or young person to access the support recommended on the framework.

In order to assess the accessibility of the Framework and to identify future support and provision, it would be appreciated if feedback could be gathered via this survey, which should take no longer than 5 minutes to complete.