Selective mutism is a complex anxiety disorder that leaves an individual unable to speak or communicate effectively in certain – or select – settings. What is important to remember is that the individual is not purposefully withholding speech.
Children with selective mutism typically do not speak at school which can have a negative impact on academic and social success. The patterns of mutism are variable: some individuals never speak outside of their home; some communicate in a whispered voice or by pointing or writing; and some speak only with a few people. Some children who are shy and hesitant to speak when they enter school, are comfortably speaking by the end of the year. It is less common for selective mutism to persist but when it does, effective intervention is important so that it does not persist the child’s school years.
The speech-language pathologist (SLP) has specific knowledge and skills in communication treatments; he/she works closely with other health professionals such as a psychologist, social worker or psychiatrist to ensure the best approach for each client. The individual’s family and classroom teachers also play a very important role in the treatment process.