Breaking the Silence: Raising Awareness on Selective Mutism

What is Selective Mutism?
Selective mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder which may lead to an expressed social dysfunction. The functioning of a child with mutism is connected with complete silence in at least one specific social situation, with full ability for verbal communication in another (Bergman, Piacentini & McCracken, 2002).
Causes and Symptoms:
There are various different factors that can cause selective mutism. Factors such as genetics, environmental impacts, and family dynamics are just a few of the factors that can contribute to the onset of SM. Because selective mutism is so complex and can manifest in various different ways, it is often common for SM to have a combination of factors that cause children to become mute. Symptoms include difficulty speaking in specific situations, excessive shyness, and the avoidance of social situations that require speaking altogether. Disorders such as anxiety can also play a role in the development of selective mutism which is why oftentimes selective mutism can be misdiagnosed as anxiety or paired with the disorder. Behavioral cues such as physical symptoms of anxiety, avoiding eye contact, or freezing in social situations are some of the symptoms that can be present within children who have SM.


Impacts of Selective Mutism and the Importance of Intervention:
Interventions for selective mutism are very important to help children persevere and overcome their feelings of anxiety along with diminishing the impacts they may face because of the disorder. Children with selective mutism often face impacts in their daily lives, school, work, and social interactions. These impacts can impact their self-esteem and relationships as they continue to develop. Although these can be scary to hear, the earlier there is intervention the more likely the child will overcome their challenges and develop successfully. Therapy for children with selective mutism is important as it provides support and resources to manage their anxiety, build confidence, and develop strategies to overcome communication challenges. When treating SM therapists, parents, and educators can work together to ensure success with the child in their various environments. While working together, it is important to have open communication and information outlets among all parties so as to not interfere with the strategies and interventions put into place.


So, what can we do as professionals or parents to aid in the treatment of children with SM? We can promote and encourage gradual speaking in challenging situations (this should be done at the child’s pace, and we should not focus solely on getting the child to speak when they are not ready). We can practice relaxation techniques to aid in the child’s overall management of their anxiety. Lastly, we can provide positive reinforcement to changes in behavior no matter how big or small the change may be. As mentioned above, selective mutism is a complex disorder that presents differently from child to child. As we navigate treatment for the child we should always go at their pace and do what feels comfortable for them rather than pushing them to do something they may not be ready for. Providing the child with support through parents, educators, and therapy will aid in their treatment and help them overcome the challenges they face.




American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., text rev.)
Treatment statement. Selective Mutism Association. (2022, December 12).