Selective Mutism – When Anxiety Keeps us from Speaking

Imagine this scenario: Abby and Beth both talk to their siblings about their favourite toys and can ask their parents for their choice of snack. When they get to school, they both feel shy at first and don't want to speak.

Abby starts to get comfortable after a few minutes and she eventually joins in with the other students, talking and playing easily. Beth stays silent for the entire day despite the efforts of teachers and students. In fact, Beth never speaks at school, only communicating at home with her family.

Beth isn't just being stubborn or feeling shy from time to time – she may be experiencing Selective Mutism.

What is it?

Selective Mutism is a severe anxiety disorder where a child cannot speak in certain situations that cause them fear or stress (e.g. at school, a park, soccer practice, etc.), but they're capable of speaking when they feel relaxed (e.g. at home). It's "selective" because it doesn't occur in all situations. They're not staying silent to gain control over the situation or cause frustration – they're refusing to speak to protect themselves from the anxiety they're experiencing.

A child with Selective Mutism might also:

  • look panicked or frozen when spoken to by others in uncomfortable situations

  • use gestures such