SMIRA (Selective Mutism Information and Research Association)

Selective mutism is a rare childhood disorder in which affected children speak only to intimates in the privacy of their home. They remain silent when with strangers although they do not have a speech or language disability.

In the past these selectively mute children were perceived as stubborn and oppositional but more recent research points to crippling anxiety as a likely cause.

These children cannot speak to teachers at school and often remain silent with peers. Hence their education and social development is likely to be significantly affected.

SMIRA was founded in Leicester in 1992 by Alice Sluckin, retired senior psychiatric social worker, and Lindsay Whittington, mother of an selectively mute child and who had great difficulty finding help for her daughter until the child’s head teacher referred her to Alice who had already worked successfully with selectively mute children.

The setting up of the charity was supported by interested professionals such as teachers, speech and language therapists and a psychologist from the University of Leicester. In no time other parents of selectively mute children joined in as it became increasingly clear that nationwide there was a need for more support and recognition of the problem and that parents were the best people to help each other.

The charity aims to support parents and their selectively mute children and professionals such as teachers, speech and language therapists, social workers.

How does SMIRA help?
Lindsay Whittington is now SMIRA’s co-ordinator and could be described as the driving force of the charity. SMIRA now has over 300 registered parents and 35 professionals who are kept up-to-date through our regular Newsletter. Our information handouts Your Selectively Mute Child, Help for Parents and Selective Mutism in Children, Help for Professionals are very popular. In 2004 SMIRA jointly with the University of Leicester School of Education obtained a grant from the Department of Education to make a DVD/video on selectively mute entitled Silent Children - Approaches to Selective Mutism. This can be purchased from the co-ordinator and is in great demand from parents and schools.
SMIRA also runs a telephone helpline three times per week (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays 16.00 – 19.00).

A more recent addition has been a website which has proved very popular.

SMIRA also organises Parents’ Meetings once or twice annually in Leicester which are always oversubscribed.

SMIRA does not ask parents to pay a membership fee but is fortunate to have many parents making voluntary contributions. The running of the organisation has been made possible through obtaining several grants, both local and national.
SMIRA was on the advisory panel of the Bercow Committee, and continues to be an active member of The Communication Trust.