Selective Mutism

boy with gameSelective Mutism is described as a consistent failure to speak in specific situations, where there is an expectation for the individual to speak (eg school, work, university).

Typically, the disturbance lasts for a minimum of one month and interferes with the individual’s social communication, academic/educational or occupational achievement.

Selective mutism is not attributed to a knowledge or comfort level surrounding social communication, and is distinct from other communication disorders such as, the onset of fluency disorder, autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia or other psychotic disorder (DSM V, 2013).

What are some characteristics of Selective Mutism?

  • Individuals with Selective Mutism do not initiate speech or respond to other when in social situations.
  • Children with Selective Mutism will often speak to immediate family members in the home, but may not speak to close friends or second-degree relatives (eg grandparents or cousins).
  • A high degree of social anxiety is often present.
  • Children with Selective Mutism often refuse to speak at school and academic achievement may be negatively affected (eg reduced results associated with reading tasks).
  • Individuals with Selective Mutism may use non-verbal means to communicate such as grunting, pointing or writing.
  • Individuals with Selective Mutism may engage socially when speech is not required (eg non-verbal parts in school plays).

In addition to these characteristics, individuals with Selective Mutism may appear excessively shy, withdrawn or ‘clingy’. Some individuals may display compulsive traits and mild oppositional behaviour (DSM V, 2013).

At what age does Selective Mutism appear?

The onset is different for each person; however the characteristics of Selective Mutism are typically present before the age of 5 years. This may be in part due to the increased social expectations associated with school (eg reading, interactive play).

What can I do if I think my child is experiencing Selective Mutism?

At Vision Psychology we have a team of mental health practitioners who are able to administer a range of cognitive and achievement assessments and formulate interventions that focus on the individual’s needs. We offer a free Emotional Health Checkup to new clients of the clinic, to help guide you to the right therapist for your (or your child’s) needs and budget.

Freecall 1800 877 924 today to book a free Emotional Health Check up with one of our senior therapists, and to discuss your concerns about selective mutism, today!

  • American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. pp. 195-197.