Selective Mutism is a rare anxiety-based disorder which can appear in early childhood. These children are able to speak fluently and normally in most situations but withdraw and remain silent in others. They are not usually able to explain why they can’t talk.

Here are some signs of Selective Mutism in young children:

  • Persistent failure to speak in specific social situations, e.g. at school, with peers or teachers, for more than one month, despite being able to speak in more familiar situations, e.g. home
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Are nervous, uneasy or socially awkward
  • Are clingy, shy and withdrawn
  • May display, for example, a sudden change/freeze when they become aware of, or get closer to, other people


Selective Mutism is not something that will typically go away on its own. With early intervention, children generally do well but in some cases, it can persist into adolescence or even adulthood. Speech and language therapists can have a role in carrying out an assessment of the child’s speech and language development and implementing an individualised treatment plan in collaboration with others such as parents, teaching staff, and educational psychologists.

As parents, patience and understanding is key. Allow enough time for your child to warm up when going to new places and avoid putting pressure on your child to speak when they are not comfortable. Encourage your child to participate in all social activities and accept different kinds of non-verbal communication such as pointing and nodding. Most importantly, educate family and friends about the nature of the difficulties and be supportive and open-minded about it.

Overall, early identification is crucial so that some form of intervention can be put into place. If you have any questions about your child or Selective Mutism, do not hesitate to seek specialist help.