The Greater Manchester Selective Mutism Network was launched this month.

Selective mutism is a term used when children who are able to talk comfortably to some people, usually family and friends, are silent or unable to talk freely when other people are present. Studies suggest that up to seven children per thousand are affected – that is one or more children in most primary schools.

Keiron, a school child who’s name and age has been protected for confidentiality, explains his experience with selective mutism. He speaks comfortably at home among family, he writes on a whiteboard when he is unable to speak. When he found out he had selective mutism, he says that his family responded well, however other people were not as understanding. He wants people to understand the disorder more, and take it seriously.

Credit: Blackpool Council

The network aims to group together adults with selective mutism and the parents of children that also have the condition from across the boroughs of Greater Manchester. Although representatives from Salford were not able to attend the launch event, they will be heavily involved in the next steps of the programme said Andrew Smith, Chair of the Selective Mutism Network in Greater Manchester. Within the network there were a number of professionals, currently they make up the majority.

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Andrew says,”Even though it’s a phobia and phobias are really simple, other people make it difficult to overcome and it doesn’t need to be. That’s why we launched the network to make sure more people know about it and people with selective mutism don’t [have] to struggle with it longer than they have to,” he also went on to say.

No one knows what it is even though it is really important. A phobia of talking in certain situations but it’s not a fear of talking its every time you go and talk you panic. You can’t speak even if you want to. 1-140 children have it at some point.”

 

“If you are afraid of the dark for an example, and you can’t sleep at night. They do something called graded exposure, where you take little steps to prove to your brain that there is nothing to be afraid of. So, you start with the lights on and everyday you turn down the lights day by day until they don’t have a fear anymore.”

Kieron uses his whiteboard to communicate (photo credits: TK Mudiwa)

“With selective mutism it is exactly the same thing. You can start with that version of the lights on and having no pressure to talk and people not pressuring you to talk. It’s very difficult when people don’t understand it, because you see someone not talking to you and the first thing, they say is why don’t you talk to me or they do lots of different things that make selective mutism worse.”

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Andrew emphasises that people should try to understand it, so you know how other people live it. He uses an example from an adult who described what selective mutism is.

“One person said it feels like a lion in his belly and every time you go to speak, it’s like the lion comes up and grabs his throat. Imagine feeling like that every single day- all they need to do is not pressure you to speak.”

 

Information found: The Selective Mutism Resource Manual What is Selective Mutism? @ Maggie Johnson & Alsion Wintgens 2016

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