Thursday 18 July 2019

Dear David Coleman: One of my twins doesn't respond when spoken to. Do I need to get him some help?

'Children choosing not to speak is common enough' (Picture posed).
'Children choosing not to speak is common enough' (Picture posed).
David Coleman

David Coleman

Q I have four-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. My son doesn't respond when spoken to, unlike his sister who responds regularly. His hearing works perfectly well. He will only speak when he wants to or when it's something of interest to him, like "let's have pizza" for example. My son's pre-school has the same concern. Do I need to take him to a behavioural therapist?

David replies: Children choosing not to speak is common enough. The way you have described it, it seems that he can speak, but chooses when, or if, he will speak. This is called selective mutism and is common enough among children.

With twins, too, you often find that one twin will be more communicative than the other.

Sometimes one twin will rely on the other to speak on their behalf, given that they are usually together and when one responds it often suffices for both.

It is helpful to reduce the pressure on children with selective mutism, to speak. When we try to pressure them to respond it can often lead to a power-dynamic building up, where a child may choose not to speak in order to exert some power (since we can't force them to talk).

Unless your son appears distressed about his communication ability (ie, gets frustrated that he can't be understood when he needs to be), or unless your son's receptive language ability is delayed (ie, he doesn't seem to understand what you say to him), and if he seems developmentally up to speed in other areas, then I think you need to do little more than wait.

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