How do you help a child with selective mutism?

Selective mutism (SM) is a childhood mental disorder or an anxiety disorder (significant feelings of anxiety and fear). In which anxiety means is a worry or nervousness about future and fear means, an unpleasant emotion to current events.

In sum, selective mutism usually co-exists with extreme timidity or social anxiety. These children are able to communicate and speak in settings only where they feel relaxed, comfortable, and secure. Here are some tips for helping a child with selective mutism.

If you need more information or you have a question regarding selective mutism, you can discuss it with our HearingSol healthcare professionals, just give us a call on +91-9327901950. We are always here to help you.

Generally, children with SM are thoroughly unable to speak in a specific situation or more public setting like school, mall, park, beaches, etc. Most cases have reported that auditory processing difficulties and trouble processing sensory information could be the cause of anxiety although the exact cause of selective mutism is yet unknown.

Symptoms checker

It is important to identify that children with selective mutism can present in many different ways. There is not a  single list of symptoms that define every kid. One character of selective mutism that is consistent, but, is the child’s disability to speak “normally” in some situations. In this case, normal communication for the child refers to the process in which they communicate when they are relaxed. Their difficulty speaking may depend on who is present and what they are doing. Communication might look different for every child with selective mutism when they are uncomfortable. Some children won’t be ready to move the body, some will only be capable to communicate nonverbally. Below is a list of common features in children with selective mutism.

Symptoms of selective mutism:

  • Excessive shyness
  • Does not talk in social situations
  • Does not communicate in any way in certain public settings
  • Often associated with social anxiety such as embarrassment, self-consciousness, clinging to the parent, and crying, etc.
  • Your child will not communicate with others except you.
  • Not interested in speaking at public places such as schools.
  • May have an anxiety disorder.
  • Alteration in the behavior of your child from a long period of time.
  • Negativity.
  • Social isolation
  • Oppositional behavior

However, some child with SM may smile, gesture, and even giggle, despite speaking.

Causes of selective mutism

Given that selective mutism is fairly limited, the risk factors are not completely known. There are some triggers that can be linked to the disorder:

  • Temperamental factors: See for behavioral interference, negative affect, and parental history of shyness, social isolation, and social anxiety. Children diagnosed with selective mutism might also have sensitive language problems.
  • Environmental issues: Parents who show social inhibition model the behavior for children. Overly controlling or overprotective way on the part of the parents can more be a risk.
  • Genetics: Due to the addition of social anxiety, there might be a shared genetic element between the two diseases.

Do’s and Don’ts to Parents of Children with Selective Mutism

To help facilitate that necessary step, here are 10 dos and don’ts to parents of children with selective mutism:

  • Know that selective mutism is not a choice
  • Do keep off the questioning
  • Describe and compliment their behaviors
  • Do read your child time to speak
  •  Notice your own reaction to your child’s quiet
  • Don’t offer prizes for something your child can’t do
  • Do not try to explain the rules of a child with selective mutism
  • Don’t demand please and thank you

Facts about selective mutism child

Following are some common facts about selective mutism child:

  • Have the deep dark secret:- It is commonly assumed that children with selective mutism are not speaking because something really bad happened to the child.
  • Have a speech problem:- Some kids with selective mutism have speech and language problems, however, many do not. It is difficult to understand the relationship between speech and language problems and selective mutism because it is difficult to assess a child that does not speak to unfamiliar adults.
  • It is also a form of autism:- Some people confuse selective mutism with autism, but it is important to know that they are not the same disorder. Both may appear to be similar. Children with selective mutism feel anxious, lack of eye contact, a blank expression, and a lack of verbal communication, etc.

Tips for helping a child with selective mutism:

While Psychotherapy is mostly the first recommendation for treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Behavioral strategies are also supported treatments for selective mutism child. For example,

  • Contingency management – Impulse control and positive reinforcement for verbal behavior
  • Shaping – support is provided on an estimation of the desired behavior
  • Stimulus fading – Increasing the number of people and places moderately
  • Desensitization – Reduce emotional responsiveness to anxiety-producing situations through support and guidance with relaxation exercises to help them overcome the situation
  • Cognitive reframing – A technique to identify and then dispute the irrational thoughts to find more positive alternative thoughts
  • Social skills – Using and understanding nonverbal communication like eye contact, gestures, body language, etc by competing in social interactions to reduce anticipatory anxiety(anxiety about a future event).

These interventions help kids learn to gradually engage in more speaking behaviors.


Selective mutism varies from kid to kid. The concerned doctor may suggest medication which will be beneficial for some kids. However, you can help your child in your own way

  • Stimulus fading: Your child will talk to you or anyone with whom your child is comfortable. Introduce the new person which slowly joins the conversations on a daily basis for a couple of minutes.
  • Self-modeling: May your child like to watch videos alone. Do let your child watch your videos it will enhance the speaking of your child.
  • Shaping: In this, you should reward your child for communicating. At first, your child may use hand gestures than the mouth and so on. It will definitely help you in some way.

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