How To Treat A Child With Selective Mutism

How To Treat A Child With Selective Mutism | District Speech & Language Therapy | Washington D.C. & Arlington VA

Is your child not talking out loud at school, even though they are very talkative at home?

Or, are they uncomfortable around extended family members and struggle to talk to them when they visit?

If this sounds like your child, they may have selective mutism.

But what is selective mutism, and what approaches can you as a caregiver take to help your child manage it?

One recommended option is child speech development therapy, and it’s especially recommended to seek out treatment as soon as you notice signs of selective mutism.

Your child with selective mutism may miss some speech developmental milestones, so it is important to start speech therapy as soon as possible.

Early intervention speech therapy tends to have better results than the “wait and see” approach when it comes to selective mutism speech therapy treatments.

Selective mutism usually starts in childhood but if left untreated, it can also develop into adulthood.

Keep reading to learn more about how you can help.

What Is Selective Mutism?

Selective mutism is a speech condition that often shows itself during childhood.

Statistics on selective mutism show that this condition impacts 1 in 140 young children and is more common in girls.

It can start at any age but is most likely to start in children around the age of 2 to 3 years of age.

There are signs to look out for to detect a speech and language disorder early on in children.

Even though selective mutism usually occurs in kids, it may also occur in adults and adults may benefit from speech therapy for adults.

It is one of the many types of anxiety disorders in which you experience anxiety in certain social situations and are unable to speak.

The anxiety causes a freeze response.

This could occur at home, at school, or in any other social situation.

It’s characterized by the child with selective mutism talking at an expected level some of the time, but remaining silent at other times, even when it may be appropriate to talk.

It is important to note that children with selective mutism are not refusing to speak or choosing not to speak, they cannot speak in specific social situations.

This is because the freeze response occurs in certain situations but not in others.

In the ones where the freeze response is activated, speaking is impossible.

The severity of this differs for different children.

Some children can communicate through nodding their head yes or no, whereas other children are unable to communicate at all in specific social situations.

One of the most common circumstances when selective mutism is apparent is when your child is with people they don’t know.

You may end up noticing that your child interacts differently with different people.

A child with selective mutism and the people around them may find it frustrating.

Some common signs of selective mutism include:

  • Nervousness
  • Being clingy
  • Being socially withdrawn
  • Anger or frustration when arriving home from school

The exact cause of selective mutism is unknown but there are some risk factors.

You are at a higher risk if you have anxiety.

You may find that speech therapy will ultimately improve your mental health.

Other possible risk factors are:

  • Poor family relationships
  • Other mental health issues
  • Self esteem issues
  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • A traumatic event
  • Having the genes for selective mutism

There are also situations where speaking may be more stressful if your child has selective mutism, which includes:

Each of these issues may benefit from speech therapy themselves.

RELATED: Speech Therapy For Hearing Impaired Kids

There are misconceptions that selective mutism and autism are related but there is no relationship between the two, although people can have both at the same time, known as a co occurring disorder.

RELATED: What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Speaking on co occurring disorders, social communication disorder is likely to co occur with selective mutism.

In this case, your child may also benefit from Speech therapy for social communication disorder

Even though this condition may seem difficult to deal with, there is help for the condition if your child has it.

If you want to learn more, our article last week was all about speech therapy treatments for selective mutism.

Check it out now for even more information.

Read on for more approaches to helping with selective mutism.

What Sort Of Approaches Help With Selective Mutism?

There are many ways to help a child with selective mutism.

Here are some suggestions.

When you want to talk to your child, give them time to get comfortable and “warm up” to the conversation.

This approach means that they’re not suddenly in a situation where they weren’t expecting to have to speak.

It gives them a chance to practice their speech skills in a low stress environment.

In addition, keep an eye on your child’s body language.

You may be able to discern how they’re feeling, especially if they’re not speaking out loud.

At first, start off by focusing conversations on yourself as the child’s caregiver, or on your child’s siblings if they have them.

This technique means that your child can observe what conversation can look like without having to focus on responding themselves.

You can also get down on your child’s level and focus on a prop.

Meeting them where they’re at may make it easier for you to connect with them.

By focusing on the prop, you focus on an object that interests the child.

Ask questions about the prop and encourage your child to tell you about it.

Let them take their time when answering, allowing them to hesitate and repeat the question if they need to hear it again.

If your child is more comfortable with augmentative and alternative communication, you may want to get familiar with augmentative and alternative communication for your child.

RELATED: What Is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

For example, if your child uses pointing, nodding or gesturing, accept those answers and let your child know that you’ve understood them.

Augmentative and alternative communication may also involve sign language.

RELATED: Frequently Asked Questions About Sign Language

Accepting your child’s level of communication is the first step to securing their comfort.

The process of getting your child comfortable with speaking is a process, and developing their comfort, engagement, and nonverbal communication is a vital step in that process.

It may also help you to dispel some of the common myths about speech therapy so you become more aware of how speech therapy could benefit your child with selective mutism.

What Sort Of Approaches Help With Selective Mutism? | District Speech & Language Therapy | Washington D.C. & Arlington VA

What Sort Of Approaches Do Not Help With Selective Mutism?

The following approaches may seem like good ideas, but are actually not helpful when addressing selective mutism in your child.

Be aware of these approaches and avoid them in favor of the approaches in the previous section.

Don’t try to be “the one who gets your child to speak.”

This approach centers you and not your child.

It means that when your child still doesn’t speak, you might take it personally, which is not productive or helpful.

Speech and language disorders are nobody’s fault and you need to trust that your child is trying and would speak to you if they could.

Don’t try to rush your child into a conversation without giving them time to warm up first.

Anxiety and nervousness are connected to selective mutism and disregarding the time your child needs to prepare only contributes to their discomfort.

This might make them less likely to talk.

Don’t look directly at your child without focusing on a prop.

Looking directly at them may make them feel pressured, which might make them nervous.

Don’t ask open ended questions that require your child to think of a creative answer.

The goal here is to help your child overcome their speech and language difficulties, not test their creativity.

By giving them simple, direct questions, they can answer with confidence and focus on their speech skills.

Don’t ask, bribe, or beg your child to talk to you.

Begging and bribing are not typical conversation models that most people follow, and they don’t prioritize your child’s comfort.

Instead, focus on meeting your child where they’re at and giving them space to communicate with you however they like, with gradual progression to speaking aloud.

Finally, don’t appear upset if your child doesn’t respond to you.

Your child might feel discouraged and think that their selective mutism is their fault.

This negative reception could set back their progress.

Instead, encourage them and be supportive of all their efforts and results, however small.

Book Your Appointment With District Speech Today

If you’re interested in learning about even more approaches to helping your child manage their selective mutism, we offer speech language therapy in Washington DC that can help.

At your appointment, you’ll meet your speech therapist and they will ask you questions about your child’s medical history and their speech and language history to better understand your child’s needs.

Our speech therapists are professionally trained and experienced with selective mutism in children.

Your speech therapist can recommend activities for you to do with your child to help grow their comfort and confidence in speaking out loud.

If you’re an adult who’s dealing with selective mutism or you suspect you may have it, we also offer adult speech therapy services that can help.

Book your appointment with District Speech today.

District Speech and Language Therapy
1300 I St NW, #400E,
Washington, DC 20005


District Speech and Language Therapy specializes in speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy solutions, for both children and adults, in the Washington D.C and the Arlington Virginia areas.