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My 8-year-old has selective mutism. She is very talkative at home, but when it comes to school she will not say a word. She went the whole school year without her teacher hearing her voice. When I go to her school with her she won't even talk to me. I feel bad because I can tell her anxiety is very high and when I try to encourage her to respond to someone it gets worse. She is very smart and is above where she needs to be in school.

I'm so frustrated because I don't know how to help her. Her dad says he knows how to "fix" her and wants to switch schools so she can be around new people and make friends. I feel like that would be traumatizing to her, pulling her away from her familiarity. She knows the routine where she's at and everybody knows her.

Any suggestions on what I can do to help my daughter?

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    There are many possible causes, so it would help if you provided some more information: Is she talkative in other social situations or only at home? Was it like that from the start or did she stop talking at some point? Have you asked her about school or changing schools? What have you done so far to investigate?
    – Cyrus
    Jul 26, 2016 at 7:14
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    In addition to @Cyrus question: does your daughter meet her class friends outside the school? At your home, at their homes, in a park, at playgrounds, during a walk...? Does she talk to them then? Does she talk to adults outside the school – to her doctor, to a seller in a shop, when you buy her favorite candies, in a cinema...? How does she behave in the presence of them, not just the family and the class and teacher?
    – CiaPan
    Jul 26, 2016 at 7:51
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    SM is an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are a medical problem; this question is asking for medical advice.
    – user19912
    Jul 28, 2016 at 12:08
  • I've taught selective mutes, and they are not stupid; anecdotally, they seem rather above average. If this really is her problem, pushing her to talk will only make matters worse. If you're in the US, her school should have a speech pathologist. Call him or her to get sound advice and to educate her teachers on how to best work with her.
    – Marc
    Sep 26, 2016 at 2:12
  • Have you considered virtual schooling? In today's world, an inability to communicate in person does not need to be a handicap.
    – pojo-guy
    Jul 22, 2018 at 18:48

3 Answers 3

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I disagree that switching schools won't help. One of the problems with selective mutism is that peers begin to expect the child not to talk. When the child does speak, it may elicit reactions of surprise from peers. From personal experience, I know that these reactions are very uncomfortable to a person with selective mutism. At a new school, peers won't have these expectations. The Wikipedia page for selective mutism actually does mention switching schools as part of treatment, but it also has this cautionary statement:

However, changing school is worth considering only if the alternative environment is highly supportive, otherwise a whole new environment could also be a social shock for the individual and/or deprive them of any friends or support they have currently.

I do agree with Leopoldo Sparks that early treatment is best and that you should seek professional treatment, but I think you need to consider how the child will react to treatment. From personal experience, I know that there is a chance seeking treatment will cause a backlash: When my parents tried to get me treatment for selective mutism in middle school, I was very offended and angry at them and refused to cooperate. According to The Older Child or Teen with Selective Mutism children of eight or nine years old are considered to be older children and will be able to see through some treatments as attempts to get them to speak, and they might resist treatment.

The article goes on to suggest that older children need to be in control of their own treatment, which I think is true. My advice would be to be very open and supportive with your child when seeking treatment. You need to tell her that you're trying to help her and make sure she agrees to treatment rather than trying to force her. As for determining whether to switch schools, I would ask the child if she thinks that would help and have her make that choice. You said she was bright, so you might even be able to use the opportunity to find a school with a better curriculum.

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Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder. It affects about 1 in 150 children. Anxiety disorders are very treatable. Treatment is provided by specialist clinicians (speech and language therapists) although most children with selective mutism will work through it with support.

Pulling your child out of one school probably won't help. Treatment would instead focus on making the child comfortable with speaking in front of a single person at the school, and building up from there.

Early intervention is important.

Here's some information: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/selective-mutism/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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Firstly, just make sure you understand the disorder as best as possible. Never try to push or force her to talk. It isn't in her mind. She physically cannot speak, so it is unwise to push her anxiety higher. More information on the disorder can be found here.

Long and short, there is nothing you can do to help her other than general anxiety treatments. Just supporting her can be enough and if you seek professional treatment, she will eventually outgrow it. Left untreated, she may progress into adulthood.

I once knew a girl with selective mutism. She could only talk to her parents. When we were 11, we played on the same softball team and I only heard her voice once. (She was speaking to her father, not to me.)

Her father told me that the best thing I could do was help her. Don't force her to talk, just ask to be her partner when it comes to partner work, etc.

This is different, of course, when you're the parent, but pretty much same goes. Seek treatment, and be her biggest advocate. I know its hard to have to sit on the sidelines!

Also: Educate those around you of her disorder and share the link with them, that I shared with you (Her friends, teachers, etc.) Awareness is key.

I'm purposely being vague on the meaning of treatment, and that's because treatments aren't usually supported on a widespread scale (due to this disorder not getting a ton of awareness.) In fact, there's really only one wide-researched and approved treatment,which is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. So, not a whole lot of choices.

The last time I saw the girl I once knew was around age 15. Her parents hadn't yet sought treatments, and I doubt they were planning to. She still wasn't able talk.

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