Simple Shyness? Or Selective Mutism?

Every parent is familiar with childhood shyness—a child who seems friendly and playful in some situations may suddenly clam up around strangers or large groups of people. While most children will display intermittent shyness at one point, in some cases, this goes beyond simple shyness and becomes a disorder known as selective mutism.

A child with selective mutism will choose not to speak at all during specific situations, although he or she will have no trouble with speech or language in other situations. Typically, this pattern will first occur before a child is five years old. In order for a child’s silence to be considered selective mutism, it must occur consistently for at least a month and not be caused by another speech or language disorder.

Overcoming childhood mutism can be a challenge, but can be made easier with the help of a speech-language pathologist. Through assessments and interview, a speech-therapist will gather information on a child’s individual issue and help improve their communication. The speech-language pathologist will engage the child in conversation in a comfortable or familiar setting, and then gradually introduce the type of situation which causes the child’s mutism. The speech-language pathologist may also attempt to shape the child’s behavior by offering encouragement and reinforcement for any attempt at communication. This may include whispering, or even mouthing words.

Want to learn more about selective mutism? Check out the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s webpage:

For information on our New York based Speech-Language Pathology services, please call Speech Associates of New York today at (212)308-7725 or visit our website at and find out how our team of professionally trained and certified speech-language pathologists can help!

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