Bilingual Children

Selective mutism is more common among children who speak a second language. Being bilingual doesn’t cause SM, but for kids who already have an anxious temperament, being expected to use a language they are less comfortable with can put them at additional risk.

Some bilingual kids may only be silent when they are expected to speak in their second language. For other children, their fear of speaking can be generalized, so that they won’t speak even in their native language.

Diagnosing children who use a second language should be done carefully. Children should not be diagnosed with SM if their failure to speak can be explained by difficulty understanding or using a second language. Bilingual children commonly experience a “silent period” while they are acquiring their new language, so clinicians should be careful not to mistake this stage of learning for SM. Bilingual children also typically begin developing language slower.