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What is Selective Mutism?

What is Selective Mutism?

Research Conducted by

Parent Advocate: Lela M. Thomas, M.Ed.


What is Selective Mutism?

Selective Mutism is a rare childhood anxiety disorder/phobia characterized by a consistent inability or failure to speak in situations where talking is expected. The child has the ability to converse normally, and does so in the home and with those that he or she has established trusted and long-term relationship. However, this disorder causes the child to consistently fail to speak in specific situations; especially at school, with adults, or with strangers.

Selective Mutism is not a developmental or speech disorder because the individuals ability to talk, when they are comfortable and select to do so, is usually normal and devoid of any speech impediment .


Selective Mutism Myths

Willfully defiant or not? That is the question.

Although it was once thought that these children were being stubborn, defiant, and oppositional-it is now recognized that they are responding to an overwhelming anxiety.

Because an internal factor of (severe anxiety) is triggering the silence; selective mutism should not be considered defiance.

Many people perceive that SM individuals are refusing to talk. This misconception can cause mutual resentment and ill-feelings and trigger more anxiety in the person who has this disorder.

It is important to understand that selectively mute individuals are not refusing to talk; they simply cant in specific anxiety induced situations.


Selective Mutism Myths

Selectively mute children are unadulterated introverts and dont want friends. (Myth)

Selectively mute children often live in a lonely world. The fear of talking has made it extremely hard to make and maintain friendships and participate socially. Imagine how hard not being able to talk or respond would be for a young school-age child.

Fact: Selectively mute children long to communicate and participate with their peers, but the intense anxiety wont let them.


Facts About Selective Mutism

It is estimated that one in every 1,000 school-age children are affected.

Selective Mutism (SM) is not a Learning Disability, Emotional disturbance, nor a Speech/Language Impairment. A Selective Mute student who displays any of these conditions would then have an additional and separate education need. Read more here:

Many therapist and educational professionals are not only unknowledgeable but also unaware of how to service children who have this disorder. As a result, students are often stigmatized and falsely placed in special education or an inferior academic track.

According to the SM Foundation, placement into Special Education settings have been ineffective or damaging, particularly with the Emotionally Disturbed program. As public schools generally do not have much information on how to help these children, special education teachers are no more equipped to assist these students than the general education teachers.

Essentially, unawareness about SM is due to the rarity of the disorder and the limited medical research.


What is the difference between Selective Mutism and Mutism?

Mutism-is an inability to speak, most often because DEAFNESS has prevented the person from hearing the spoken word. Someone who is totally mute is normally incapable of speaking at all.

Contrary to mutism, selectively mute individuals are perfectly capable of speaking. However, they only speak to those who they are most comfortable with and relaxed being around.

Example: Sarah is quite a chatterbox at home. She laughs, sings, and loves to debate with her siblings. However, when Sarah arrives at school, she becomes physically unable to speak to her teachers due to her feelings overwhelming anxiety. Although she desperately wants to speak and make friends, for eight hours, Sarah suffers in silence.


My Daughters Story: Selectively Mute & Misunderstood

For years, my daughter Alaysia has suffered with the anxiety of having selective mutism. In school, Alaysia was always a smart student. In first grade, she was one of the only students on the A honor roll in her class. After moving to Georgia in 2008, Alaysia was considered a discipline problem and was labeled defiant because she could not speak or participate in class activities with other students.

Alaysia was often punished by teachers and administrators who were unfamiliar with the implications of selective mutism. Undoubtedly, this made Alaysia and I both frustrated; making matters worse. To better service my child, the elementary school counselor convinced me to accept her recommendation to place Alaysia in special educational services. I was not thrilled at all and I fought the idea for some time. After all, my child had no physical handicaps or learning disability. I thought that these people were insane. After constant pressure from the counselor and teacher, I was so overwhelmed that I went ahead and agreed. But, only because these were professionals that assured me that her placement would be in my childs best interest. Well, Im here to express that it was more so in the schools best interest than my childs best interest. However, I would not find that out until much later.

Keep in mind, Alaysia never had a learning disability, but-because the school staff was unfamiliar with how to adequately service her, she was basically being warehoused/tossed into a special education program. This was only the beginning of our journey.


My Daughters Story: Selectively Mute & Misunderstood Part II.

Alaysia and I went to all kinds of therapists and doctors some who claimed to know and some who had never heard about SM, and yet years went by with no results. Teachers, school counselors, and other professionals has no idea how to help my child; especially in the classroom. In the process, many of her teachers thought that she was being oppositional and defiant in not speaking; especially when they found that she would actively speak at home.

Surprisingly, it wasn't until Alaysia, at the age of 12, watched a video of a young British girl on You Tube that suffered with the same disorder explain her problems and how she overcame the disorder. I truly believed that this connection which mirrored another person just like her is what finally helped her to break her silence in school.

In addition, Alaysia was sent to an alternative school as a result of a fight that took place in which she clearly did not initiate but suffered the consequences of her schools zero tolerance policy. When the school hearing took place, the school failed to inform the hearing officer of her disorder, and when questioned about the incident, my daughters inability to speak hurt her case immensely. In fact, the hearing officer even scolded her for not being able to speak which clearly identifies the fact that many professionals are not knowledgeable about this disorder. On the first day of orientation April 28, 2013, Alaysia clearly answered questions related to her goals and prospective future when asked by a friendly parent liaison in front of a large group of students and parents. She vowed to her new teachers that her silence was over and clearly verbalized it. I am not positively sure if her silence was broken because of this incident in particular, but I will express that these two events took place immediately prior to her sudden breakthrough. Alaysias story is still being written and she is a work in progress. However, I hope that her story will help others with Selective Mutism break their silence.Please feel free to email me with any questions:


Alaysia Thomas-A 12 Year Journey To Break the Silence


The Selective Mutism Foundation

Selective Mutism Group ~ Childhood Anxiety Network

The Child Mind Institute

Information for Classroom Teachers

Also , please visit facebook to explore

and join informative Selective Mutism groups.

Lela Thomas, M.Ed.

Parent Advocate & Educator

For more information on Selective




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