What is Selective Mutism?

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that occurs in childhood, where children choose not to speak to avoid certain psychological and social problems. Children with this condition remain silent and unable to speak or communicate in specific social situations, such as talking to schoolmates or unfamiliar people, while they speak normally and fluently in a comfortable environment like home with their family.

It is a psychological disorder that affects children in social situations, particularly at school. Most children with this disorder suffer from “social phobia” and intense anxiety. This distinguishes “selective mutism” from autism.

Children with this disorder often have social fears and anxiety, and they may also have speech and language difficulties. It typically begins before the child is five years old, but parents might not notice the problem until the child starts school.

Causes and Symptoms of Selective Mutism


  • Nature of the Surrounding Environment: A child may develop anxiety from their family if the family atmosphere is dominated by anxiety and tension, leading the child to fear speaking in front of others.
  • New Life Changes: New milestones in a child’s life, such as starting school and engaging in gatherings, can cause anxiety, contrary to what they are used to.
  • Bilingualism: Some children who speak two or more languages may find it difficult to speak with others in a language other than their mother tongue, leading to anxiety and selective mutism.
  • Genetic Factors: Genetics can play a role in selective mutism, as this disorder tends to run in families.
  • Psychological Disorders: A child is more likely to develop selective mutism if they suffer from other psychological disorders, such as social phobia, separation anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Selective mutism symptoms can appear as behavioural and physical signs:

Behavioural Symptoms:

– The child remains silent and does not speak with others, such as teachers and schoolmates, despite speaking normally at home with their parents and siblings.

– Difficulty asking for help from others even in necessary situations.

– Clinging to parents and speaking to them in a low voice, whispering, or gesturing in the presence of others.

– Avoiding eye contact with others.

– Avoiding situations that draw attention, such as playing in front of others.

– Anger, crying, and acting aggressively when forced to communicate or speak.

– Refusal to go to school.

Physical Symptoms:

– Frozen facial expressions.

– The child appears disturbed and tense.

– Trembling and blushing.

– Rapid heartbeat.

– Shortness of breath.

– Cold hands.

– Dry mouth.

– Stomachaches.


Early treatment of selective mutism can lead to good results and quick recovery for the child. The treatment initially aims to reduce the anxiety the child experiences and then help them to speak.

This involves psychological therapy, speech and language therapy, and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT).

CBT is considered one of the best methods for treating selective mutism, as it works to overcome the underlying anxiety behind the child’s silence, training them to speak with others, readjusting to new behaviours, and encouraging them to express themselves through speech.