Parents Guide: How to Help a Child with Selective Mutism

Guides

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between SM and autism or a communication disorder?

Paying attention to when a child is having trouble communicating helps determine if she has SM or something else. While a communication disorder will be apparent in all situations, symptoms of selective mutism are only noticeable in specific social situations. Likewise, kids with autism will have problems interacting socially in all circumstances, not just around certain people or in certain settings.

Can kids grow out of SM?

Experts don’t know how many children with selective mutism will grow out of the disorder. But what we do know is that treating it becomes much harder the older a child is, so it is extremely important not to put off treatment. Additionally, the longer a child isn’t able to speak in certain settings, the longer he will be suffering emotionally, and missing out on important social and academic development.

Would switching classes at school help?

Sometimes switching to a different class or school can help, since your child won’t have a history of not talking there. Even when a child is in treatment, it can sometimes be hard to get her to talk in front of a teacher she has a history of not talking around. The more she is used to not talking in a particular setting, the more ingrained it will be.

However, switching classes doesn’t always work, particularly if that is the only change that you make. If you do decide to switch classes or schools, it is best to have strategies and techniques in place before she makes the change. This might mean doing things like visiting the new classroom and meeting her new teacher before school starts, in a situation where she’s not immediately expected to answer questions or speak. Ideally a new teacher would also be trained in what selective mutism is and how to help kids who have it.

What should I tell my family?

 Kids with selective mutism are often unable to speak around some extended family members, which can be stressful for everyone involved, particularly if the SM is mistaken for stubbornness or oppositional or manipulative behavior. Explaining to relatives what selective mutism is and sharing how they can help is important. Some clinicians meet with grandparents and other important members of the extended family to coach them in how to help the child. When family members are included in a child’s treatment, they are usually eager to help him get better.