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                                         Speaking to Others About SM


SM is a widely misunderstood and under diagnosed condition. Often adults will mistake SM for shyness or at worst defiance. It is vital that those who regularly interact with an individual with SM understand the causes and symptoms specific to the individual in order to support the development of speaking confidence. Once adults in the individuals environment understand that the behaviour exhibited is a fear response, half the battle is won.


There are still widely held misconceptions that a child is being obstinate or refusing to talk and/or work. It is vital to discuss with people that for individuals with SM it is the anxiety and fear of communicating (be it written or spoken) that is causing them to act in a certain way. This can be difficult for others to understand when they see that the individual is able to speak without hesitation in some situations and/or has behaviours that fluctuate across the day. Discussion about anxiety in general can support this e.g. the hesitation and slowness in approaches to work, silly behaviours such as poking others and apparent “ignoring” behaviours are all features of anxiety. The individual is either in shut down mode similar to an adult having stage fright when delivering a speech and/or the child may be attempting to interact with others but struggling to know how. It is vital that the child has a speech and language assessment to identify the presence of any social communication or language difficulties that may also be contributing to a child’s performance at school.


Family members and friends also need to be supported to understand SM and how to approach someone with the condition. Well meaning adults may be unknowingly putting pressure on the child to speak therefore increasing their understanding can help to reduce demands on the child to talk initially and support their involvement in treatment programmes in the future.


I have found the following books and videos useful in supporting understanding around SM.


Handouts from the SMIRA website -


These are currently more easy (and free)to download from the files section in the SMIRA facebook page. There are a wealth of documents on there. Below I have referenced those that I most frequently use in this capacity.


  • Why Doesn’t This Child Talk – a very quick handout with Do’s and Dont’s

  • What Does Selective Mutism Mean – a parent description.

  • SMIRA Speaking Out Early Years and Prevention – This is a great handout for raising awareness in pre-school settings.

  • SMIRA A4 awareness leaflet – quick description and key factors useful for sharing with family, school and health profession


Handouts from SMart Centre website





The Selective Mutism Resource Manual (2nd Edition, Johnson and Wintgens 2016) – Handouts 3 and 4. I have found these useful to share with schools as quick hints and tips for how to interact with a child with SM.


Can I Tell You About Selective Mutism – Maggie Johnson and Alison Wintgens. This illustrated book is great for sharing with family members, school and older children. It gives detailed descriptions of SM and details heaps of strategies that are easy to try.


Understanding Katie – Dr Elisa Shipon Blum. This book details a day in the life of Katie who is a girl with SM and wider anxieties. It’s a great tool for generating discussion with others around the other aspects of anxiety that will affect the child throughout the day.




Training/information sessions on what SM is and how to support the individual – for home, school, social activities. These may be in-person, online or via purchased info videos such as SMWA's supporting Pre-School Children with SM video which can be found here.




I have found these videos useful to share at information sessions with schools and parents. – This video is with Speech Pathologist Maggie Johnson. It shows two children with varying degrees of SM . Maggie talks about the different rules children have and gives a great explanation of SM. – 2 minutes long. – Norfolk community and healthcare trust video for SM. This video tells a Mum’s story – her child didn’t speak to anyone for 3 months. It gives ideas for use at nursery and briefly talks about sliding in procedures but appears to be more targeted at reluctant communicators. – This is a 2 minute documentary with a girl named Red – it shows the use of a talking picture book and her Granddad talking to her about SM.

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