Selective mutism refers to selective silence in a child who speaks freely in very familiar situations. Children who demonstrate this condition appear comfortable and talkative with close family members. However, whenever people other than the closest family members are present, the child is persistently quiet. Some children avoid eye contact and do not communicate in any form with others. They refrain from the use of gestures or changes in facial expression.

The disturbance is defined by the following criteria:

  1. a persistent failure to speak in special social situations despite speaking in other situations
  2. lack of speech which interferes with educational or occupational success
  3. silence is of at least one month’s duration after the beginning of the school year
  4. failure to speak not due to lack of knowledge of language used in the situation
  5. the disturbance is not solely accounted for by a Communication Disorder, Psychotic Disorder, or a Pervasive Developmental Disorder. 

How does Selective Mutism impact classroom performance? 

  • A child who remains silent in the classroom often raises the concern of teachers because they are not demonstrating the knowledge they are learning. Therefore, it may be assumed the child is not learning. As well, children with selective mutism suffer greatly from anxiety. They may withdrawal from others, fear certain areas or activities, or feel overwhelming emotions at times. 

What can be done at school? 

  • It is very important to communicate with parents in order to come up with a plan to make the child feel as comfortable as possible. It may help to allow the child to come to school prior to the first day to familiarize them with the room and/or the teacher they will have.