More than Just Shy: Helping the Child with Selective Mutism

Recently, somebody posted a question about helping a child with Selective Mutism (SM) on my facebook wall.  This is an excellent question, and one which deserves much more than a two sentence answer on facebook.  Through the years as a consultant to early childhood programming, I have observed a number of kids with SM. 

On many occasions, parents and teachers will say, "She is just being stubborn. She talks up a storm at home," or, "It's just a phase.  It will pass," or, "Her older brother was just like this," or even worse, "She's just being lazy {or defiant, or willful, or worse}!"

SM is actually an anxiety disorder, which manifests in early childhood, and is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.  Here is what the DSM-IV-TR has to  (2000) says about it:

Consistent failure to speak in specific social situations (in which there is an expectation for speaking, e.g., at school) despite speaking in other situations).

The disturbance interferes with educational or occupational achievement or with social communication. 

The duration of the disturbance is at least 1 month (not limited to the first month of school). 

The failure to speak is not due to a lack of knowledge of, or comfort with, the spoken language required in the social situation. 

The disturbance is not better accounted for by a Communication Disorder (e.g., Stuttering) and does not occur exlusively during the course of a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Schizophrenia, or other Psychotic Disorder. 

Selective Mutism from a Child's Eyes:

Here is a PDF printable from about SM from a Child's Eyes.  I highly recommend this for parents, caregivers, teachers and administrators.

How to relate to a child with Selective Mutism {and more}...

It isn't always easy to be a child with SM.  This is an example of a letter that could be written by any parent to help inform providers, teachers and loved ones about their child's SM, so that they do not inadvertently cause more distress for the child.  You can download it here:

Top Ten Myths Aboout Children with SM

Important information for everyone about SM.  The Top Ten Myths About Selective Mutism.

For numerous resources, more information and printables, go to

For our recommended books and other resources to help kids deal with anxiety, go here.

When we know better, we do better!  Let's help all children succeed!


Learning Period said…
I'm glad I came across this article. I know of at least two students who may have mild SM, but the school where I work does not have a strong IEP program, and I doubt the parents have even heard of SM. I feel really bad for these students in that there is this overall lack of support.
Thanks for dropping by. SM is so often mistaken for extreme shyness, but it is important for parents and early childhood professionals to be aware of this anxiety disorder. As with most things, the earlier a diagnosis takes place, the earlier the child can be successful. ~Wendy

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