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What it means to have a child with selective mutism

What it means to have a child with selective mutism

Like many girls her age, Isla loves drawing, swimming lessons and arguing with her older sister.

She is a boisterous, spirited six-year-old who, at home, is forever being asked to quieten down by her mother Charlotte Maddams, 35. But at school, or in front of strangers, Isla is a very different child: her voice disappears, her mouth locks shut and she is unable to articulate even the shortest of words. For the last four years, Isla has suffered with selective mutism, a growing and devastating anxiety-based mental health disorder.

The condition – that affects 1 in 150 children in the UK – means, while able to speak fluently and freely at some times, those affected remain consistently silent at others. It can be debilitating, humiliating and interfere with educational development.

While most cases are solved with early intervention from therapists, sympathy and time, others progress throughout adult life. Experts blame the later on a lack of awareness for a disorder that is frequently misunderstood, often as shyness or even extreme surliness.

Alison Wintgens, the national advisor for selective mutism for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists says: “I think that the name is difficult because people still think of the word ‘selective’ in connection with choice. But it is nothing to do with choice. Situational mutism would be a better name.”

At worst, Isla, who is asthmatic and has dairy and citrus allergies, hasn’t been able to ask for her inhaler or anti histamines at school.