Dispelling the Myths

Selective mutism is relatively rare, so people, even pediatricians or other specialists, might not immediately recognize it, or might mistake it for autism or a communication disorder. People may also mistakenly think that a child isn’t talking because he is being willful or oppositional.

In reality children with SM are extremely anxious and can’t talk, even when they want to. In other words, a child with SM is unable to speak, not refusing to speak.

There’s also a misconception that kids who can’t speak in some settings have been traumatized. In fact, kids who become mute after a traumatic experience are typically mute in all situations, not specific social environments, as is the case with SM.

Finally, it’s not unusual for relatives to think a child with SM is “just being shy,” and will “grow out of it.” But these kids are much more than shy — they’re frozen with anxiety. The longer a child doesn’t speak in certain settings, the more he will miss out on, and the harder it will be to treat the problem.