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Selective Mutism


A person with Selective Mutism will consistently not speak in specific situations where speaking is expected. This is in spite of their ability to otherwise speak normally.

Image of child behind a chain link fence.

The Details

Selective Mutism is primarily a diagnosis associated with children. Their refusal to speak is not an inability to speak, and that refusal may occur with other children or with adults. Typically they’ll speak freely at home around their immediate family, but the presence of neighbors, family or school friends, teachers, and even close relatives can lead them to become silent. When however their anxiety about speaking is not present, their speech skills are usually consistent with other children their age.

Children with Selective Mutism frequently have high levels of anxiety when in situations such as these where they’re expected to speak. Sometimes children will substitute speech with nonverbal forms of communication such as hand gestures, pointing, writing, or using non-words sounds such as a moan or a grunt. Despite their not speaking, children may still look forward to social situations such as playing with friends, going to school, or eating with family members.

Shyness, fear of being embarrassed, social isolation, acting clingy, and temper tantrums are also common in children in children with the diagnosis. In the majority of cases, a child with Selective Mutism will also be diagnosed with another Anxiety Disorder, most commonly Social Anxiety Disorder.


Selective Mutism is not common, but when it does occur it’s almost always seen in children. The prevalence of the condition is between 0.03% and 1%. It is equally common in girls as in boys and across different racial and cultural groups.

While the condition may not truly become an issue until a child begins school, the symptoms generally occur prior to age 5. With increased social situations such as meeting other children, being asked to read aloud in class, answering a teacher’s questions, and playing that involves verbal communication, it’s usually in school that the condition becomes more apparent. There is some belief that children can outgrow the condition, though long-term studies are lacking. This means that professionals are often able to predict the outcome or provide many details to a child’s family about what to expect over time.

Unfortunately, not speaking up can lead a child to not understand school assignments and fall behind, to miss out on social activities and friendships, or to be teased by classmates.

Although their speech is usually in the “normal range”, children may have some degree of difficulty in comprehending what others are trying to say. When this happens it may be very minor. Additionally, parents who are shy themselves or who are overprotective may be more likely to have a child with Selective Mutism.

Finally, when a child speaks one language at home and is expected to speak another outside the home, they can sometimes have trouble fully comprehending the native language and its nuances, which in turn could lead to the development of Selective Mutism.


Selective Mutism is a condition usually associated with children, where despite their ability to speak normally and freely, in specific situations they do not do so. While they may speak at home with their immediate family, a child can become silent in the presence of even close friends and relatives.

While they may have some difficulty fully understanding what others are saying, their speech skills are typically just as good as other children their own age. Selective Mutism is associated with social anxiety so much so that in a majority of cases a child with Selective Mutism will also be diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder or another Anxiety Disorder.

Most frequently apparent when they’rein school, children with this diagnosis can face teasing and ridicule by classmates, fall behind in class, miss out on opportunities, or simply be dismissed by others as being shy or even rude.


All information on this website has been professionally prepared, but also intentionally written in a manner that is not overly technical. The terms used here are usually, but not always the formal and proper terminology or diagnoses that would be used between professionals. Similarly, we made a decision to not provide the full and exhaustive diagnostic criteria here. This is done so as to be informative and more easily understood by people who are not in the field of mental health. At the same time all reasonable efforts are taken to assure that the information presented here is as accurate as possible. We also provide a list of common definitions and abbreviations that you may find useful.

While clinical descriptions are not intended to be overly technical, they do attempt to be accurate and consistent with the DSM standards. Any changes made are superficial and done so for the sake of ease of comprehension.


It’s important to point out that the information provided on this website is not designed to replace a proper clinical assessment performed by a qualified professional. The descriptions on this website are not intended, nor should they be used to self-diagnose or to diagnose those around you.

Please also see our Terms & Conditions and particularly the sections on Clinical Information and Mental Health Conditions.

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