Selective Mutism

Children and adolescents with selective mutism do not speak to most other people, even though they are comfortable speaking at home to their family and close friends.

The primary symptoms of selective mutism include:

  • Consistent failure to speak in certain social situations where talking is expected, such as at school or in the neighborhood store, even though speech is used in other settings.
  • Distinct rules about when and with whom it is safe to talk, including and excluding particular family members, friends, locations, and whether the child is within the view or earshot of others.
  • Lack of speech in social situations interferes with school functioning (e.g., refuses to give an oral presentation or cannot tell the teacher he/she needs to use the restroom) or social communication (e.g., has difficulty making friends or cannot tell others when he/she is upset).
  • The child’s failure to talk may result from anxiety in social settings, a fear of not finding the right words, or a concern that his/her voice will sound strange. The speech deficit is not due to a lack of knowledge about or facility with a particular language (such as in children who learned English as a second language).

Effective Solutions

Behavior Therapy of New York can help children and adolescents with selective mutism expand their talking repertoire and improve their academic and social functioning.

  • The therapist teaches the child about anxiety and how his/her difficulty speaking may be linked to nervous emotions. The child is taught effective relaxation and coping skills.
  • The therapist and child work together to create a list of feared talking situations. They carefully work up the talking ladder, which allows the child to gain confidence with speech in easier tasks before being challenged with more difficult talking goals. Early steps often include talking with parents in the presence of the therapist, and later tasks may include talking to classmates and the teacher at school.
  • Parents and teachers are taught how to reinforce the child’s talking and how to decrease the child’s reliance on nonverbal communication by learning effective reward strategies and selective ignoring.

Contact Behavior Therapy of New York for more information on treating selective mutism.