Signs a Child Might Have SM

Signs a child might have selective mutism include:

  • Being freely verbal and even gregarious at home, but completely or mostly nonverbal at school or around strangers
  • Seeming “paralyzed” with fear, or “shut down” when unable to speak
  • Using gestures, facial expressions and nodding to communicate. (Note some children with SM struggle even with nonverbal communication and will not do this.)

The disorder may look slightly different from child to child. Sometimes children with SM will be able to talk to peers but unable to talk to their teacher. Others will stay silent around peers, too. Many kids with SM enjoy school and have friends (or want to); they may interact nonverbally during playtime. Some children with SM are able to speak to their classmates in their own homes, but many cannot. Although they’re normally able to talk with their parents, some might stop being able to once they are in their classroom (or even on school property). Some children with SM will be able to smile and point to things that they want, while others will struggle even with this, developing a completely flat facial expression and not being able to use gestures.

While warming up to a new classroom environment can take time for many children, and being quiet in the first few weeks of school isn’t uncommon, a student who is nonverbal for more than a month may be cause for concern.