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Speech and Language in the Classroom

The Blog

Friday, 16 December 2016

An interview with... Alison Wintgens, Speech and Language Therapist Specialising in Selective Mutism

Approximate reading time: Under 3 minutes.

1) As one of the few specialists in the field of Selective Mutism, what was the driving force leading to choosing this as your focus?

As a speech and language therapist on a child and adolescent mental health team since 1990, my job was to work with young people who had both emotional/behavioural problems and difficulties with communication. Selective Mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder resulting in an intense and irrational fear of talking. It affects someone’s ability to communicate fully in many situations and can profoundly affect their lives, so it absolutely fitted the remit of my job and was bound to be something I needed to address.

I was struck however by the lack of information available on how best to assess and treat children and young people with SM; and also by the devastating effects if it is not recognised and well managed. It was then exciting and a great relief to meet Maggie at a conference where we were both presenting on SM; and to persuade her that we should write down our understanding and experience of working with SM and what exactly we were doing.


2) What has been the most motivating experience you’ve had with Selective Mutism, which has maintained your interest?

I haven’t had one particular motivating experience; my interest has been maintained over more than twenty-five years by sharing and developing my knowledge. Sadly many people still have not come across or even heard of SM. It is a great relief for children, young people and their parents who have come for help to hear that it is a recognised condition; they are not the only ones who have it; there are ways to get over it; and this is what will help. And it is wonderful to see the progress they can make when people in their educational setting understand SM, the pressure to talk is taken off and helpful strategies are put in place.


3) What is your top tip for TAs, Teachers, or SENCOs in mainstream schools, who may be supporting a child with Selective Mutism, or may suspect a child has Selective Mutism?


This can’t be answered simply in one top tip, but here are a few ideas!
-          Listen to what the parents are telling you, and if it seems the child can talk comfortably in some settings but not in others, find out more about SM.
-          Take off any pressure on the child to talk.
-          Support and encourage the child and find non-verbal ways that s/he can join in.
-          And read Maggie’s Link Magazine article ‘Shyness or Selective Mutism?’ for more tips!


4) With increased time spent on computers and phones from a young age, do you feel that this environment can hinder or help with the treatment for Selective Mutism?

This is a really interesting question. On the whole I think computers and phones are very helpful in the treatment of SM. Those with SM can benefit in many ways. When direct speech to some is not yet possible, they may feel less isolated by messaging and using Facebook. They and their families can get information about SM; watch encouraging YouTube videos; and post questions or comments to others in the same situation. And the phone can be used in a gradual controlled way to desensitise themselves from the fear of speaking.


Read more on Selective Mutism in Maggie Johnson's article 'Shyness or Selective Mustism?' in the Link Magazine, Issue 6...


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