What is Selective Mutism?

Usually occurring in childhood, Selective Mutism is when a child does not speak in certain situations despite talking in other situations (e.g. will talk at home but not in school). It is usually noticed when a child starts preschool or school. Selective Mutism is more than just a shy child and is not a child simply refusing to speak. It is associated with anxiety and possibly a severe form of social phobia (Kristensen, 2001). Children with Selective Mutism may also show: anxiety disorder (e.g., social phobia), extreme shyness, fear of social embarrassment, social isolation and withdrawal.


A child with Selective Mutism may present with some of the following symptoms:

  • Consistent failure to speak in specific social situations (when there is an expectation to speak, such as at school) despite speaking in other situations (e.g. home).
  • School work or social communication is affected as a result of not interacting/speaking in this setting
  • Lasts at least 1 month (not limited to the first month of school).
  • Body movements can often times appear awkward
  • Your child has difficulty maintaining eye contact
  • May have difficulty with both verbal and non verbal communication
  • If still young, he/she may cling to parent/caregiver when they are leaving.
  • Child is often ‘unwilling’ to smile and may have a blank facial expression

(adapted from: Selective Mutism Foundation, 2012)

What CAINT can do:

The foundations of Speech and Language Therapy practice is to facilitate effective communication for our clients. CAINT provide a detailed assessment through parental questionnaires to obtain family history, your child’s developmental patterns, speech/language skills and social interaction at home or in school.

In the case of Selective Mutism, assessment may possibly take place at home or in school. Following assessment, CAINT develop an individualized treatment plan tailored to your child’s needs. For successful treatment of Selective Mutism in children, the key is to build a trusting relationship with your child and provide a safe environment, both of which CAINT strives to provide. Therapy is often based at school or in the social situation where your child is most likely to resist interaction or verbal expression. Therapy includes desensitizing the child by helping them understand their difficulty, providing short term goals, rewards and plenty of reassurance and reinforcement to motivate the child to talk. We work with parents, teachers, family and peers to provide a trusting environment by providing behavioural strategies and information to facilitate communication with the child.