Selective Mutism

What is Selective Mutism?

Selective mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder that is diagnosed when a child consistently does not speak in some situations, but speaks comfortably in other situations. These children are unable to speak in certain social situations where there is a demand to speak, such as at school, at dance class, at soccer practice, or at the corner store. In other situations, these same children may speak openly with others and may even be considered a “chatterbox”.

Selective mutism causes significant impairment in a child’s life and can interfere with performance at school and with friends. It can often prevent them from having fun. It also can also keep them from being safe if they are unable to ask for help or get their basic needs met.


How do I know if my student has selective mutism?

Your student may have selective mutism if s/he…

  • Speaks in certain settings but stops talking, either completely or almost completely, when other people are around. For example, will talk to you but no other school staff.
  • Looks frozen or paralyzed (like a “deer in the headlights”) or even angry when asked questions by unfamiliar adults or when s/he feels uncomfortable.
  • Uses gestures like pointing, nodding, or funny facial expressions to get his or her needs met despite knowing how to talk.


And the difficulties speaking…

  • Have occurred for more than one month, not including the first month of school, and are interfering with the student’s life.
  • Are not better explained by another disorder.

 Downloadable Resource: Coping Strategies for Supporting Students

To learn more about SELECTIVE MUTISM please click here


Audrey is a 5-year-old girl who lives with her parents and older brother. At home, Audrey is a happy and fun-loving child where she loves playing games and putting on plays for her brother and parents. However, at school and in the community, Audrey is a completely different child and becomes completely silent when required to speak. When Audrey entered school, she was excited to go, and eager to participate, however she would completely shut down any time the teacher asked her a question, acting as if her teacher were a tiger coming to attack her! When she is not required to speak, Audrey willingly communicates using nonverbal gestures with her classmates and teachers. At school, Audrey’s best friend Hannah will speak for her and answer any questions on her behalf. Audrey’s needs are met despite the fact that she uses nonverbal gestures to communicate in the classroom.