What is Selective Mutism?

What is Selective Mutism?

Selective mutism is where a child can speak in some situations but not others.  The most common place a child has difficulty speaking is at school, but it can also be at doctors offices, at parks and with relatives.

Selective mutism effects between 1-5% of children.  The most common age for the disorder is 5-years old, but signs of this problem are often seen much earlier.

About 20-30% of children with selective mutism also have speech and language difficulties, but this does not cause selective mutism.

Selective mutism is thought of as an anxiety disorder, specifically social anxiety.  Social anxiety is a fear of being embarrassed, criticized or rejected by others.  Children with selective mutism are often fearful of being heard speaking.  The fear reaction that they have can actually tense up their throats making it more difficult to speak.

People often think that something traumatic must have happened to cause selective mutism, however this is not true.  It is more likely a temperamental trait or tendency towards shyness.  Often one or both parents experienced shyness as children and possibly as adults as well.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT is very effective for SM.  Early intervention is recommended.

Additional Resources:



Helping Your Child with Selective Mutism Practical Steps to Overcome A Fear of Speaking by Angela E. McHolm, Ph. D, Charles E Cunningham, Ph.D, Melanie K. Vanier, MA

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