Selective Mutism: More than just shyness
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.
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
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