'Big Rise' in Children Left Mute outside the Home; 800% Increase Blamed on Social Change

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Byline: Darren Devine

THE number of children with a rare condition that can leave them mute outside the home has rocketed by more than 800% over the past 30 years, a speech therapist said yesterday.

Maggie Johnson says the numbers of children with "selective mutism" has exploded due, in part, to social changes like more women working full-time.

Ms Johnson also maintains other factors, including early pressure on pre-school children to speak, are playing a part.

She estimates the number of children with the condition has risen from around 0.8 in 1,000 30 years ago to one in 150 now - by more than eight times.

Ms Johnson, who will speak at an Early Years (Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin) conference in Llandrindod Wells today, said with the right help almost all the children can overcome the condition.

In the past it was termed "elective mutism", because it was believed the children chose not to talk.

On this basis professionals like teachers often worked from the misguided belief that the pupils were just stubborn and wilful.

Now it is accepted the condition stems from anxiety and therapies revolve round nurturing confid-ence in situations where the children feel unable to talk - typically in school.

Ms Johnson, who has around 30 years' experience in the field and is co-author of the Selective Mutism Resource Manual, said: "Both parents usually work now and that's how it's got to be.

"There maybe more than one person involved in child care - mum might look after the kids on Tuesday and Wednesday, with a regular childminder on a Thursday and then nursery on Fridays.

"I think it's about there being a lot of change in children's lives - it's not the same thing every day."

The therapist, a mother-of-one, added: "There are a lot of factors here and children are going into pre-school and being tested and measured up and having to pass certain targets.

"That is just as stressful. I'm not saying it's wrong because we want children to reach higher standards. …