What is Selective Mutism?

Selective mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder that renders children speechless in school and community settings, despite speaking in other settings, for example, at home with family members. SM affects up to 2% of children and commonly begins in children ages 2.5 – 4 years old.

Children with SM can vary in (non)speaking behaviors depending on the person, place, or situation/activity. If untreated, SM can interfere with social and emotional development as well as impede academic progress. Early identification and intervention can help children find their voice.

Common Signs

  • Difficulty talking despite a ‘warm up’ period

  • Chatty at home, but mostly or completely silent at school

  • Points, gestures, or nods, instead of speaking directly with others

  • Known by peers as the child who ‘does not speak’

  • Issues impact friends, class participation, and seeking help

Key Pointers

  • Provide extra warm-up and 1:1 time

  • Use forced-choice questions (is it red or blue?), instead of yes/no (is this red?) or open-ended (what color is this?) questions

  • Wait 10-15 seconds for a response

  • Praise simply (“thanks for telling me”), then quickly redirect back to the topic or activity

  • Be patient and don’t take it personally!

The Good News… evidence based assessment and treatment for SM is available! Services include:

  • Weekly individual or group therapy

  • School training and ongoing consultation with school teams

  • Parent and caregiver training

  • Sessions in the clinic, school, or in the community

  • Intensive therapy involving multi-day and/or multi-hour treatment sessions

  • Intensive therapy camp- learn more about Confident Kids Camp. Registration Now Open for our 2020 Camp!

For more information, contact Dr. Lindsay Scharfstein at drscharfstein@changeanxiety.com or at selectivemutism@changeanxiety.com or call 301-610-7850.

Selective Mutism Resources