Selective Mutism

BY: Josephine Ohenewa Bampoe

Selective Mutism is an anxiety disorder which results in a persistent inability to speak in specific social situations (e.g. at school, a relative’s house) despite speaking fluently in familiar situations.

It is often caused by a trigger event in which communication has resulted in high levels of anxiety.

This anxiety then becomes associated with communication.

Signs of Selective Mutism

Sings of selective mutism include:

• Frozen appearance,

• Lack of eye contact,

• Inability to speak outside the home environment, especially at school. Usually comfortable talking at home where they feel safe and secure,

• Inability to speak to people outside the immediate family,

• Difficulty expressing themselves,

• Inability to gesture, point or nod.

Helping children with Selective Mutism

• When alone with child, acknowledge their achievements around talking. When with others, praise the child for other non-talking behaviours in the same way you would praise any other child, for e.g. “You jumped so well”.

• Schedule regular physical exercises to help the child manage anxiety and to boost their confidence.

• Be receptive towards any kind of communication from the child and respond to them, for e.g. nodding, gesturing, drawing, making choices etc.

• Value the child as whole. Focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do and try to develop their skills, talents and interests.

• Appreciate any attempts made by the child regardless of the mistake. Acknowledge and praise them for trying new things regardless of the outcome. Encourage them to keep practising.

• Help the child to see difficult tasks such as talking as exciting challenges. Instead of using languages such as ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’, use ‘can’t yet’. Be mindful of your language when talking to them or about them.

• Help the child to build friendships by pairing them up with another child for unstructured play at school.

• Give child opportunities to have a go or think of ways to simplify tasks to increase success. Don’t be too helpful. Don’t be too quick to jump in to ‘save’ your child from opportunities to communicate for themselves.


Children with selective mutism benefit a lot from therapy.

Early intervention is very important as it is associated with better outcomes in a shorter period of time.

Without the right support, selective mutism will persist to adulthood and will impact on a person’s education, employability, relationships, and other areas of life.

Speech and language therapists and psychologists who have specialised in this area of communication play key roles in early identification and management of selective mutism.

The writer is a Speech & Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor,University of Ghana. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.