As awareness of physical and mental health comes to fore, it is pertinent that parents/guardians/teachers take a closer look at children kept under their watch. You never know, your child could be exhibiting traits of Autism and/or Selective Mutism for instance. With that in mind, always remember that the child must always be in an excellent state, as that is the only way they can learn! 

So what do you do when this particular kid in class looks left out and barely participates during lessons? Do you assume he/she is just having an off day? What happens when it continues to repeat itself? You make an inquest. Congratulations, you’ve just realized that something is wrong. What then can you do? In this article, you will learn all you need to know about the extra quiet kids in the classroom.

What is Selective Mutism?

Selective Mutism is a complex childhood anxiety disorder. It is characterized by a child’s inability to speak and communicate effectively in most especially in social settings, for example, at school. Children with selective mutism are only able to speak freely and interact in situations where they feel at home.

Selective mutism is a disorder. One that prevents children from performing maximally in key areas of their lives. A common misconception is that kids will outgrow selective mutism with time, but this is usually not true. For an individual to overcome Selective Mutism and all its associated anxieties there will be a need for them to be involved in a treatment program.

Is Selective Mutism a Disability? No

Selective Mutism is not a Learning disability, Emotional disturbance, nor Speech/Language impairment. The reason is simply that Selective Mutism is not linked to anything else. A Selectively Mute student who displays any of these conditions would then have an additional and separate education need.

Is Selective Mutism a form of Autism? No

Selective Mutism, commonly found in children and often mistaken and misdiagnosed to be Autism. At the surface level, some of the characteristics may appear to mimic Autistic behaviors, but they aren’t the same.

What Causes Selective Mutism?

To be fair, nobody actually knows. The cause, or causes, are unknown. Experts believe that children with the condition inherit a tendency to be anxious and inhibited. Most children with selective mutism exhibit variants of extreme social fear (phobia). Parents often assume that the child is choosing not to speak.

Myths about Selective Mutism

A lot of individuals have common misconceptions about selective mutism. It is important to debunk the myths and understand the facts. The focus should be on getting the children the help they need. The following are common myths about selective mutism:

  • Children with selective mutism must have had a traumatic experience or have a deep dark secret.
  • Children with selective mutism are shy and will most likely outgrow their challenges with conversing with others. 
  • Children with selective mutism have speech problems and need speech therapy.
  • Children with selective mutism are aware of it and are just being oppositional and manipulative.
  • Selective mutism is a form of autism.

How to Identify a child with Selective Mutism

Observe each student over a period of time, find what interests the child (games, subjects), check the family background and try to professionally understand the child’s home. 

Befriend them genuinely, help them understand the consequences of their silence, understand their reasons for being quiet, teach confidence, and deliberately engage them in speaking activities. Use true love to do this, and you can’t go wrong.

Symptoms of selective mutism can also include the following:

  • excessive shyness.
  • social isolation.
  • fear of embarrassment in front of a group.
  • clinging to caregivers.
  • temper tantrums.
  • oppositional behavior.
  • compulsive traits.
  • Negativity.

Do’s and Don’ts When Interacting with a child with Selective Mutism

When interacting with a child who has Selective Mutism, DO:

  • Talk “around” the child at first with a focus on parents or siblings.
  • Allow for a warm-up time while you monitor the child’s body language.
  • Get down on the child’s level and focus on a prop asking choice and direct questions to the child.
  • Allow the child to hesitate before giving a response and re-ask questions if needed.
  • Accept nonverbal communication like pointing, nodding, gesturing without an expectation for speech.
  • Give the child a measure of secured comfort by accepting the child’s level of communication 
  • Understand that strategies can be used to assist the child in progress into speech and follow them duly.

When interacting with a child who has Selective Mutism, DO NOT:

  • Try to be the hero that gets the child to speak.
  • Disregard warm-up time or approach the child without preparation.
  • Face the child directly without focusing on a prop.
  • Ask questions that open-ended, which would require the child to think in order to formulate an answer.
  • Ask, bribe, or beg the child to talk to you or worse still appear upset if the child does not respond to you.


Awareness of Selective Mutism is only gaining traction in recent times.Selective mutism, at its core, is an anxiety disorder. A typical experience is having the words to say, but being physically unable to vocalize them. The vocal cords tighten up and simply refuse to work even though they can and do work in very specific safe situations or with specific people. We need to be of as much help as we possibly can.

Selective Mutism Awareness Month is observed in October and sponsored by the Selective Mutism Association.

  • busayo.longe
  • on 4 min read


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