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Selective Mutism

The scope of this page includes information about selective mutism occurring during preschool age through adolescence.  Considerations for selective mutism as it extends into adulthood are briefly discussed.

Selective mutism is a complex childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a child's inability to speak and communicate effectively in select social settings, such as school. An individual's pattern of mutism can vary greatly. Some children or adults never talk outside the home, some whisper, and some speak with only a select few people. The "individual has not elected to withhold the ability to talk in all situations; rather, the individual selects the situations and people with whom they verbally communicate" (Richard, 2011, p. 8). Children with selective mutism typically do not speak at school, which interferes with academic, educational, and/or social performance. Children with this disorder sometimes communicate via nonspoken or nonvocal means (e.g., pointing, writing).

Collaboration between the speech-language pathologist (SLP) and behavioral health professionals (such as a school or clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, or school social worker), as well as the classroom teacher and the child's family, is particularly important for appropriate assessment and treatment planning as well as implementation because selective mutism is categorized as an anxiety-based disorder. SLPs are in an excellent position to coordinate intervention for children who have selective mutism because of their knowledge and skills in effective communication treatments (Schum, 2002).

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