Selective Mutism: Do’s and Don’ts

Do’s

Remove all Direct Pressure to Speak

It is important to remove all pressure to speak, in order for them to feel comfortable and at ease around you. Anyone who interacts on a regular basis with someone who has selective mutism needs to be taught to remove all pressure around speaking. This is one of the most important things that you can do for them.

“Expectation of speech and focusing on talking actually increases anxiety and reinforce muteness.”

“Maintain the child’s need to communicate by creating opportunities but not expectations for them to speak.”

Encourage speech, without putting any pressure on them.

Accept Nonverbal Communication

If they are comfortable with {pointing, shaking their heads, nodding or writing} then allow and accept these. Don’t encourage these all the time though, and move on to verbal communication when they are more comfortable with you. It is a good idea to offer them choices between answering nonverbally or verbally when asking questions. This will help them to choose what they feel comfortable with at that specific moment.

It is also important to remember that there are some who might not even be able to communicate nonverbally.

Allow for Warm-Up Time

Be patient with them, and give them the chance to warm up to you. Allow them to warm up to any new situation, and new people.

Wait 5 Seconds for a Response

Someone who is this anxious of speaking may need some time to think of an answer. Therefore it is important to wait 5 seconds for a response, without repeating the question.

Ask Forced-Choice Questions

“Do you want the green or red crayon?” “Do you prefer pizza or hamburgers?” These are the least anxiety provoking questions to answer.

“When talking with the child, make more comments than questions. This reduces the pressure on them to make a response and avoids a situation where someone is waiting for them to respond.”

Approach Them as You Would With Someone Else

“Approach them how you would with anyone else. A smile and greeting is fine, even if you don’t get a response from them.”

This has happened to me before in some situations. Do not highlight someone with selective mutism in front of everyone else, it will only make them more uncomfortable and it will make it even harder for them to speak to you.

Acknowledge Their Fear of Speaking

Let them know that you understand that they find it hard to talk at times.

Follow Their Pace

Everyone with selective mutism is different. So make sure to make sure that you follow their pace. Don’t put them in situations which they are not ready for. Selective mutism requires a lot of patience, and people who has this can overcome it by taking small and manageable steps.

Be Sensitive With Your Words

A person with selective mutism can still hear you, even though they may not speak, so it is important to be kind and sensitive with your words. They usually listen a lot more than they speak. Don’t say anything in front of them thinking that they can’t hear you.

Accept Them as they Are

Accept them for who they are. People with selective mutism benefit a lot from a supporting and accepting community.

Don’ts

Don’t Appear Upset if they Don’t Speak to You

Remember that they want to speak to you but they can’t due to anxiety, so don’t take it as an offence and make it about you.

Don’t Make Them Speak

Making them talk won’t work. Anxiety is the reason why they can’t talk, therefore it is important to change your mindset from asking, How can I make them talk? To, How can I help them conquer their crippling anxiety?

Don’t Try to be the One Who Gets Them to Speak

Trying to make them talk won’t make it any easier for them. It will just increase the likeliness that they won’t speak to you in the future.

Don’t Use Bribery, or Beg Them to Talk to You

Using bribery or begging them to speak to you won’t work any easier than forcing them to speak.

Don’t Punish Them for not Speaking

“Where rewarding positive steps toward speaking is a good thing, punishing silence is not. If your child is afraid to speak, they will not overcome this fear through pressure or punishment.”

Don’t Get Frustrated With Them

A person with selective mutism is not choosing to not speak, and they would speak if they were able to. So don’t get frustrated at them for not speaking.

Don’t Make any Jokes or Sarcasm about Their Silence

This has happened to me a few times. These might seem like harmless jokes, but they are not funny. They will do more harm than good.

Don’t Give Them Unwanted Attention

People with selective mutism often dislike being at the centre of attention. Therefore it is important to not give them over the the top attention. They still want to be noticed and invisible. But being invisible and being at the centre of attention is not the same thing.

Don’t Make any Comments about their Voice, or their Words When They Do Speak

Don’t Bring Attention to the Fact that they are Quiet

People with selective mutism are very aware that they are not speaking, and they do not need to be reminded of it all the time.

Don’t Make a Big Deal out of it When they do Speak

People with selective mutism often fear the reaction that they will get from other people when they do speak. So it is important to act like it is completely normal to hear them speak, and not make a big deal out of it. Because a big overreaction can prevent them from speaking in the future. I remember one time when I talked and someone made a big deal out of it. That person probably didn’t know that I had selective mutism and only meant it as a joke.

It can be very exciting to hear someone’s voice for the first time. But it is better to remain calm and act normal, so that they will feel like it is a safe place to talk.

At the same time it is important to let them know that you are proud of them for speaking. But make sure that you don’t say anything in front of everyone, and be specific so that they will know what you are proud of. This will hopefully encourage them to continue speaking in that place and situation.

Don’t Ask Open-Ended Questions

Don’t ask them open-ended questions when they are not ready for them. At the start you should preferably ask them forced-choice questions, and then work your way to open-ended questions when they feel a little more comfortable.

When you do ask open-ended questions, remember to wait 5 seconds for a response, because these are the types of questions that requires them to think of an answer.

Don’t Ignore Them

Don’t ignore them when they are not speaking. Make sure to find a way to include them even if they are not speaking.

I hope that you have found this blog post helpful. Make sure to spread it further by sharing it. It is important for everyone to know what to do when interacting with someone who has selective mutism.

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