How to Help a Child With Selective Mutism

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Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder characterized by one’s inability to speak during certain social interactions.

It can be painfully debilitating. Fortunately, there are ways to get it diagnosed at an early age.

However, the challenge is how to help a child with selective mutism after being diagnosed.

What Causes Child Selective Mutism?

One of the first things that you can do is determine the root cause of selective mutism.

There is a possibility that the child may overcome their condition once the underlying issues have been resolved.

There are a number of causes that can lead to selective mutism, but here are the most popular:

Separation Anxiety

One of the leading causes of selective mutism, especially in children, is separation anxiety, particularly from their parents.

Those who suffer from extreme shyness or insecurity are at a higher risk.

Sudden changes in the child’s comfort zone sometimes cause these insecurities.

Going to school alone for the first time, moving residences or parents getting divorced are just some of the most common examples.

Speech and Language Challenges

Another common cause of selective mutism is an intense blow to one’s self-esteem due to speech and language challenges.

Stuttering, having a lisp, or even just a weird accent can sometimes be enough to hinder a child from comfortably talking with other people.

Sensory Processing Issues

Sensory processing challenges can also cause selective mutism. 

As the name suggests, it’s a condition that hinders a person from properly translating and processing the various sensory information provided to them by another speaker or their immediate environment.

They might not even notice that someone’s talking to them.

On the other hand, being overly sensitive to sensory stimuli can also lead to the inability to speak due to being too overwhelmed by everything happening around them.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Sadly, selective mutism can also be a form of withdrawal from the world, particularly after a traumatic situation such as losing a loved one or after being abused.

Developmental Disability

Selective mutism and autism can be easily confused with each other.

That’s because people who suffer from them can display the same behavioral patterns. They are not the same, though.

Still, a developmental disability like autism can cause selective mutism as well.


Finally, those with relatives who suffer from anxiety are more prone to developing one than those who don’t have this disorder in their family’s gene pool.

tips how to help a child with selective mutism

How to Diagnose Selective Mutism

Now that we are aware of the most common causes of selective mutism, we can move on to the next step: getting your child diagnosed. 

If you believe that your child is at high risk of developing this disorder due to one or a combination of the causes shared above, then it’s better to have him or her diagnosed.

You can consult your family doctor to get endorsed to a specialist or seek advice from a speech pathologist, therapist, or even an educational psychologist.

There is a high chance that the medical professional won’t be able to talk to your child directly. 

Hence, you might need to act as a medium and talk to the therapist on your child’s behalf.

Some therapists also employ methods such as letting a child type their message on a digital device or write it down in a journal for the therapist to read on the next treatment session.

You must also be aware that the diagnosis will also determine the root cause of the issue.

It is part of their job to dig into your family’s history and determine if there’s anything there that might point out to your child’s peculiar behavior when communicating.

How to Help a Child With Selective Mutism

Treatment usually follows diagnosis. Both you and a professional has a role in ensuring your child overcomes selective mutism.

What Approaches Do Professionals Use?

Here are some of the most common interventions used as selective mutism treatment:

  • Positive Reinforcement

One of the most popular approaches in selective mutism treatment is positive reinforcement. 

It is done by letting the child identify the desired behaviour or activities.

The therapist then provides positive reinforcement through friendly gestures and rewards whenever the child achieves desired behavior.

  • Stimulus Fading

Another treatment method for selective mutism is slowly increasing the number of people the child can talk to.

This can ideally help them eventually outgrow their fear of talking to other people, even those who don’t belong inside their “circle”.

  • Desensitization

This method used to treat selective mutism is done by exposing the child to situations that will require speech.

Of course, this is done with the emotional support and guidance of someone they trust.

  • Social Interaction Practice

Finally, there are also interventions that expose the child to controlled group environments.

Through this method, your child can practice social interaction and potentially be able to recreate their experience in the real world.

This method is also considered the most common treatment for selective mutism.

How Can I Help My Child With Selective Mutism?

Most of the methods of treatment for selective mutism we shared above are done by therapists. 

You might be wondering, though, what you can do as a parent in order to reinforce your child’s therapy sessions and increase their efficiency.

Here are just some of the steps you can take:

  • Acknowledge That Selective Mutism Is Not a “Choice”

The first thing you can do is gain a better understanding of what your young one is going through.

You need to acknowledge that no one chooses to have selective mutism.

Most of the time, it sadly just happens, sometimes without even any apparent cause.

  • Do Not Force Them to Speak

Learning more about selective mutism will also clarify that you simply cannot force or will it away

In fact, forcing your child to speak outside a controlled environment and not providing the support necessary can make the condition worse.

  • Watch Your Reactions

It is also very easy to overlook our own reactions towards our children.

Many of us may not notice our facial expressions whenever we witness our child’s behavior. 

It can be the look of disappointment, a sigh, or worse, a stifled laugh.

Keep in mind that those with selective mutism can be very particular to our body and facial gestures. 

Thus, what would be ideal is always to offer an approving smile to show your love, care, and support regardless of the outcome of the interaction.

  • Recognize That Offering Rewards Are Not Always Ideal

Here’s another parental action that can easily be disregarded but can sadly also cause a lot of unnecessary pain.

We understand that your reward system is coming from a place of love, but it can also send the message that you’re withholding something that your child desires because of an action that they’re simply unable to do at the moment.

Offering someone with selective mutism a reward after a positive social interaction can be the same as offering a highly scientific person to recreate on canvas the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.

It’s not impossible to do, but it will take years of hard work and intense training.

  • Don’t Expect Them to Be Courteous

Don’t expect your kids to complete all the social niceties that go into a conversation.

Mustering up the courage to talk to someone is already an impressive feat on its own, even without saying please or thank you.

  • Don’t Give Up

Finally, don’t give up. It is normal for the first signs of improvement not to manifest quickly.

Rest assured, though, that everything will be worth it in the end.

Can Selective Mutism Be Overcome?

Yes, it is possible to overcome selective mutism, and the combined efforts of therapists, parents, and other caring adults can make this happen.

The earlier you get diagnosed, the faster treatment can start, and the sooner it will be for the child to break free from the chains that hold them back.

Can a Child Outgrow Selective Mutism?

On the other hand, it can be exceedingly difficult for a person to outgrow selective mutism. 

It can also cause years of unnecessary pain that should have been spent undergoing treatment and moving on from this condition.

Don’t let this happen to your child. No one deserves to live life this way.

Missing out on age-appropriate social interactions also have their own consequences and potential mental health issues in store.

Dealing With Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that can happen to any child, especially those undergoing a lot of life changes.

Those with speech problems and developmental disabilities are also particularly at risk.

Fortunately, there are ways to treat selective mutism.

Those who want to learn how to help a child with selective mutism will find that the first step is to get diagnosed by an expert.

Various interventions can be done to modify and reinforce communication behavior so that one day, selective mutism can gradually improve.

There are also tips that parents can keep in mind to support the therapy sessions that their child undergoes. In the end, what’s most important is never to give up.

Selective mutism can be overcome but only with proper diagnosis and treatment methods.

Leaving it to chance and hoping that your child will simply outgrow it over time can just potentially aggravate his condition and make it more difficult to treat.