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20 Things Parents Want You to Know About Their Child With Selective Mutism

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I recently posted a question on the Confident Children Facebook page, asking parents what they wish others understood about selective mutism (SM).

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder which affects approximately 1 in 150 children. Children with selective mutism can talk freely in some situations (such as at home), but are unable to talk in other situations such as at school, in social situations, in public, or with extended family members. Children often report feeling like their voice is ‘stuck’ or that their throat feels tight, and the words cannot come out.

I received a flood of comments and messages to the question, “Parents, what do you wish others understood about selective mutism?”

Here are the responses:

  1. “That selective mutism is not a choice, and that it’s both person and situation dependent. I would prefer the term situational mutism.”
  2. The importance of early intervention. That selective mutism gets harder to treat as they get older. That while we wait for them to “grow out of it,” the mutism will become more ingrained, and therefore the treatment will take longer.”
  3. “She’s not being stubborn.”
  4. “That my son is very intelligent and just needs encouragement to show his full potential.”
  5. “That selective mutism is not a choice.”
  6. “That she isn’t just extremely shy. Selective mutism is a real and debilitating disorder.”
  7. “I think school staff often see that an SM child isn’t necessarily failing academically, and therefore think SM is something that can be left. I struggled to get school to see that SM wasn’t going to disappear.”
  8. “That it’s critical they receive support and interventions to avoid a secluded and depressed child.”
  9. “That it’s not selective.”
  10. “It’s not a choice and not just something they will grow out of.”
  11. “That adults can do courses to help them understand selective mutism and the young people they work with. It’s such a rewarding and deeply wonderful experience to work with a child with selective mutism.”
  12. “That it’s not just about speaking. My daughter speaks at school (but not in any other social settings), but has so many other issues that are connected to SM; such as not coping when there is a sudden change in the daily routine of her school day.”
  13. “Getting the class teacher to work with you is key.”
  14. “That it’s not in their control.”
  15. “It is a diagnosis, not a symptom.”
  16. “SM is not just about verbal communication. Sometimes she can’t use non-verbal communication depending on the person and situation.”
  17. “That she won’t snap out of it.”
  18. “Just because a child looks happy doesn’t mean they aren’t extremely anxious. My daughter can appear OK to others who don’t read the very subtle signs of anxiety…then we get the aftermath at home.”
  19. “That it’s not a competition who my child talks to.”
  20. “Selective mutism is not a choice.”

Is there anything you want others to know about selective mutism? Tell us in the comments.

Get more information at the Confident Children Facebook page.

A version of this story originally appeared

Photo credit: ilona75/Getty Images

Originally published: March 22, 2019
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