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The development of social skills is regarded as an essential component of growth and adaptation. However, there are some cases in which children are rendered incapable of performing usual speech functions because of a mental barrier. Selective mutism can prove detrimental to children at a school age as they are unable to effectively communicate with their peers and educators. Understanding the causes as well as ways to overcome selective mutism can help children resume the normal social development they need.


Rooted in Anxiety

Often, children with selective mutism are capable of speaking when they are in a space they deem safe, comfortable, and secure; home is typically the location of choice. However, in public spaces or when in an unfamiliar or threatening situation, children may find themselves unable to communicate.

Selective mutism develops from some form of anxiety. Though it may be assumed the child is simply unwilling to speak, this is not the case; their anxiety about unfamiliar people and places renders them physically incapable of communicating, even if they want to.

Selective mutism is considered to be a hereditary condition; parents of children with selective mutism often report dealing with anxiety in their youth. Because of the limited number of symptoms and difficulty of diagnosis, children with selective mutism may be falsely diagnosed with a developmental condition like autism or simply shyness.


Helping a Child Cope

If you recognize the symptoms of selective mutism in your child, the most important initial step to take is reassurance. Expressing to the child that there is no obligation or pressure to perform in stressful situations can help alleviate some of their intrinsic anxiety. Being empathetic to your child’s experiences and limitations is a positive step toward recovery.

You may also speak with your family physician. One of the most effective methods of treating selective mutism is through cognitive behavioral therapy. It is important to assess the methods and attitudes of a therapist, however, as many have misconceptions about the condition.


Selective mutism can be detrimental to the development of a child’s social skills. Understanding the cause as well as the environmental factors that worsen the symptoms is important for taking your child’s experiences seriously and providing them with the support they need.