Pediatric Speech Therapy For Selective Mutism

Pediatric Speech Therapy For Selective Mutism | NHWS | Occupational Therapy Clinic in Tigard Oregon

Every parent wants what’s best for their child.

So when they don’t seem to be developing at the same rate as their peers, it can be worrisome.

However, what can be even more confusing for parents is when a child seems to be growing along with their peers in some situations, but not in others.

For example, if they seem to be developing speech and language skills at home, but then are unable to speak while at school, you might be wondering what is going on.

As a speech pathologist for kids in Tigard Oregon, today we’re going to look at why this could be happening – one reason is a condition called selective mutism.

Keep reading to find out more.

What Is Selective Mutism?

Selective mutism is a condition in which a person will talk in some situations, but not others.

The person experiencing selective mutism fully understands the language, and is capable of speech, but is incapable of speaking in certain, specific situations.

In most cases, selective mutism coexists with social anxiety.

The true hallmark of selective mutism is not just reluctance, but the actual inability of a child to speak in certain social settings.

Selective Mutism Symptoms

You may want to consider a pediatric speech therapy evaluation for selective mutism if you notice the following symptoms in your child:

  • They speak in specific situations, such as at school, but will speak outside of that specific location
  • They’re struggling to make friends
  • They’re struggling in school
  • This pattern of not speaking lasts longer than one month
  • They don’t speak despite knowing the language – if a child is in a situation where they are unfamiliar with the language being spoken, and they don’t talk, this is not considered selective mutism
  • There are no other speech or language issues at play which could cause them to not speak, like stuttering or autism spectrum disorder

Selective Mutism Causes

Selective mutism can sometimes be used to help diagnose other conditions and may be considered a symptom itself.

Children displaying selective mutism may also have:

  •     Extreme shyness
  •     An anxiety disorder
  •     A desire to be alone and not interact with others
  •     Fear of embarrassing themselves

It’s important to note, however, that selective mutism is not just shyness.

Children with selective mutism tend to be shy and to steer clear of unfamiliar social situations, but it’s not the same thing.

A shy child can generally be coaxed into speaking in unfamiliar social situations, but a child with selective mutism is actually incapable of speaking in such situations.

Testing For Selective Mutism

If you suspect your child may have selective mutism, a speech therapist can work alongside your family doctor as well as other professionals such as a mental health counselor to screen for this condition.

The testing process will generally include:

  •     Discussing your child’s medical history and development
  •     Screening for hearing loss
  •     Looking at your child’s understanding when spoken to
  •     Checking the lips, jaw, and tongue are functioning properly
  •     Listening to the child’s ability to speak, express ideas, and answer questions

Due to the nature of selective mutism, some children will not speak directly to their speech therapist or other healthcare providers – in these situations they may request a video of your child talking instead.

How A Pediatric Speech Therapist Can Help With Selective Mutism | NHWS | Occupational Therapy Clinic in Tigard Oregon

How A Pediatric Speech Therapist Can Help With Selective Mutism

Treatment for selective mutism will vary from person to person, depending on the underlying causes of the condition and which skills they need to develop.

Some methods which your speech therapist may use could include:

  • Shaping: Offering praise when your child makes an attempt to communicate, which could include everything from pointing and gesturing to mouthing and whispering words, with the goal being to have them speaking in all situations
  • Self modeling technique: Having your child watch videos of them speaking in situations where they feel comfortable, helps build their confidence to speak in other situations as well
  • Stimulus fading: Having the child speak with someone they are already comfortable around, and gradually having new people join in the conversation

Another method which may be used is The Ritual Sound Approach®.

This approach aims to reinforce your child’s attempts to move their mouth in a way which will produce sounds, phonemes, and eventually, words.

It starts with voiceless speech sounds like “h” (sounds like breath or breathing) or “k” (sounds like coughing) so they can feel air moving through the vocal cords.

Children will work through a worksheet of sounds and letters, noting which ones they can produce, and the added distraction of this worksheet also serves to ease their anxiety while speaking.

Book Your Appointment With New Horizons Wellness Services Today

Do you have a child who is super happy and talkative at home, but the feedback you’re getting from their teachers at school is that they are quiet and never speak?

Are you worried this might be interfering with their ability to make friends or their performance in school?

If this is the case, your child may have selective mutism.

We’re New Horizons Wellness Services, and we offer pediatric speech therapy for kids and families in and around Tigard, Oregon.

If you’re worried about your child’s speech development, our team can help.

Book an appointment today to get started.

Yours in Health,

New Horizons Wellness Services
13333 SW 68th Pkwy,
Tigard, OR 97223


New Horizons Wellness Services provides a true multidisciplinary approach to mental & physical health treatments for children, adults and families.