Selective Mutism in Children

What is Selective Mutism in Children?
Written by Emily L. Forgan, Ed.S., Nationally Certified School Psychologist

Selective Mutism in Children (SM) is a true anxiety disorder characterized by a child’s inability to speak and communicate effectively in select social settings, such as school (Selective Mutism Center). It is also listed as an anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5). Selective Mutism is not a child being oppositional or defiant, rather it is a real anxiety based disorder. Children with SM usually have social phobia or social anxiety (Selective Mutism Center), which is a true fear of speaking.

What Does Selective Mutism Look Like?

Selective Mutism comes out in many different ways. A child with SM may not communicate at all or he or she may only communicate nonverbally through gestures and head nodding. Other children may feel comfortable whispering to select individuals or communicating with peers but not adults. A child may be completely verbal at home but not communicate at all when in school or vice versa.

Four Things To Do if You Think Your Child May Have Selective Mutism

It is important to remove all pressure from the child to speak. Communicate to the child that you understand it is difficult for him or her to get the words out and reassure your child that you will help them.   Give your child multiple choices such as, “Do you want juice or milk?”

Focus on praising your child’s accomplishments and efforts, and do not force him or her to talk in settings where they feel uncomfortable (Selective Mutism Center).

Read a children’s book. Mason is Learning to Roar was written by Monique Mondesir, M.D. She has a child with SM and wrote the book to help give children understanding and skills.

If you suspect your child has SM, speak with your pediatrician or find a speech language therapist or psychologist who specializes in social anxiety disorders like selective mutism. One such provider is Dr. Joffe in Coral Springs.

Contact us if we can help you help your child. (561) 625-4125


Some parts adapted from