Parents Guide: How to Help a Child with Selective Mutism


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.