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Fear of speech may be sign of rare condition

A high-profile meeting to raise awareness of selective mutism, a rare language condition that makes children fearful of speaking in school or in public, took place in Cardiff this week.

Experts believe the condition is often misdiagnosed owing to lack of awareness and because sufferers are often talkative at home.

Maggie Johnson, a speech and language therapist and co-author of a book on selective mutism, told the meeting, which included education minister Jane Hutt, that more research was needed in Wales.

The condition, which normally becomes apparent between the ages of three and five, affects more girls than boys. But Ms Johnson says it is not due to extreme shyness, trauma, attention-seeking or late development.

Michael Jones, an educational consultant also at the meeting, told TES Cymru he was conducting his own study using child sufferers from Wales. He recently finished a pilot study, using computer games to help selectively mute children.

He sends parents and teachers a DVD game to use with affected pupils, first at home and then at school. Once the child has mastered it, the game is introduced to his or her classmates. The hope is that it will boost their confidence.

"They develop this fear of speaking and of people hearing their voices, he said. "They start to become worried in any situation where they might have to speak."

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