Selective Mutism

Parent Q&A

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  • Dear Parents,

    I'd be very grateful to hear from families who have kids in Berkeley public schools, especially elementary schools, who have kids with Selective Mutism, with either a 504 or full IEP.

    I'm particularly interested in hearing how teachers and administrators have treated kids with SM and their parents. For example, what sorts of accommodations were, or were not made? Did teachers or others at the school respond appropriately when other kids may have been inappropriately aggressive, bullying, etc., towards kids with SM or anxiety disorders? Did teachers disbelieve the SM diagnosis and act as if they thought the student was willfully  uncooperative, instead of suffering from an emotional disorder?

    Input on experiences at privates/independent schools are welcome too.  I can privately/offline share experiences with one private/independent east bay school.

    Thanks in advance!

    I'm posting anon, so in your public message, LMK you want me to contact you and I'll reach out to you!

    I work at a BUSD school and have seen several kids with selective mutism over the years.  The teachers have all been very patient and accepting in the classrooms, finding the child's strengths and not pressing them to speak.  The child works on speech with a pull-out speech teacher. One family moved to a private school after kindergarten, so I can't speak for them, but the other children all improved greatly over the years.  They first begin speaking only to one or two trusted adults, and slowly their circle of trust and speaking widens.  The other kids in the school understand and accept the mutism for the most part.  The SM is generally explained to the other kids so they understand that the child can hear, and can understand, but just does not speak.  Knowledge is power; if it's age-appropriately explained, there is no fear nor mystery.  Our SM kids had friends, and were accepted socially.  

    It's been several years since we had a child with SM in the Berkeley public schools. Our kid has overcome SM and is now a graduate student. I fervently hope that things have changed for the better since we were directly involved with the district, but I'm still connected to SM resources and am happy to be contacted about our experiences. Our child's IEP specified many accommodations regarding social interactions, alternative means to demonstrate academic accomplishment and to participate in class discussions, participation in music and drama, reticence affecting self-expression in writing, and social anxiety issues around eating and modesty. We also negotiated provisions for educating teachers and staff about SM, some of which were more successful than others. We also had experiences with some independent schools in the east bay. Willing to discuss any of this if you want to reach out.

  • I have a 10 year old who has been extremely shy and quiet since he was in preschool. He is in 4th grade now at a public school. He doesn't talk anything at all with his peers and teachers at school even now. He talks quite normally with his parents and close family members. We have been in constant consultation with our pediatrician whose recommendation was to expose him to more and more social situations and help him outgrow it. We have tried everything we could - play dates, cub scouts and even therapy to help him open up but it hasn't helped much. I recently stumbled upon selective mutism as a condition and it seems to fit exactly with my son and I finally feel that we may have something to label his condition and help him accordingly. To that end, I am looking for parent groups for selective mutism and also recommendations for therapists who specialize in selective mutism treatment. Would love to hear from parents who are or have been in similar situation. Thanks a lot for your help!

    I'm so sorry your son is going through this. My son was diagnosed with selective mutism when he was much younger, 4 years old, and did outgrow it. He's 14 now and still very quiet, but does speak to his teachers and even does presentations in front of his class. He's come a long way. We worked with Audrey Boggs in San Rafael. She's a therapist who herself had selective mutism into her 20s and has dedicated her practice to it. There may someone closer to you on this list: Audry wasn't a miracle worker, it takes time and persistence to help your child with this. But she understands this issue profoundly and knows what it feels like to have the condition herself. Good luck to you and your son. 


    I wish I had some recommendations for you but I suspect that this isn't common enough to have a lot of local resources.  I believe I had selective mutism as a child but was never diagnosed.  It wasn't until I saw a documentary on television when I was thirty that I had ever even heard of it.  When I saw the story, I thought- wow, that sounds like me.  The girl on TV was then medicated and it seemed to work for her.  So, not much help on ideas for how to handle it without medication.  Since it is a form of social anxiety, I would start there.  At least that covers more topics so it will be easier to find others.  If you find a therapist who specializes in social anxiety they might be able to help.  I don't know if there is specialized therapy for selective mutism that is different than what they would do for social anxiety.  To find that out I would start investigating online.  That way you can possibly find papers or researchers who actually specialize in selective mutism.  As someone who has possibly lived through it (though mine was a milder- I would talk with close friends at school) I would say that it does seem to be like just intense social anxiety.  It did ease up through the years as I got older.  And, I did put myself through 2 years of Toastmasters when I was in my twenties to be able to give a presentation at work.  So now I'm sort of like a normal person who doesn't like public speaking.  But, I would have been a whole lot happier if I did not have to carry social anxiety around with me everywhere I went.  If only therapy was more common back then.  I don't think just generic exposure to social situations will work very quickly- it will likely take a lifetime.  So, I think you should find some actual therapy for social anxiety.  At a minimum, find someone who specializes in anxiety in kids.  Good luck and I feel for your boy!

    My daughter is in fourth grade and has selective mutism.  She is now fully verbal at school but didn’t speak at school for her first five years.   Most pediatricians and even many mental health professionals do not have an adequate understanding of the condition.   SM professionals will tell you that SM is not something that kids outgrow.  It is an anxiety disorder that can be overcome with the appropriate treatment.  Treatment may include working with a therapist who is knowledgeable about SM, attending a intensive camp and or medication.   I would be happy to talk with you about our experience with SM.  My email gretchenscholtz [at]    The therapist we worked with is Dr Catherine Eckel.   She is based in Los Gatos.   She runs a camp called “Freedom Camp” every July.   I highly recommend this camp.  Conventional wisdom is that kids with SM benefit from treatment the earlier the better.   There are not a lot of therapist who specialize in SM.   There are other camps but none that I am aware of in California.   There are numerous groups of Facebook for parents of kids with SM.   I’ve found those groups to be very helpful.   Happy to talk to you about our experience.   Gretchen 

    My young adult child overcame selective mutism, but I continue to be involved in spreading awareness. There is a growing understanding of selective mutism and how to treat it, but it is still commonly misunderstood by therapists and schools. I find that the most comprehensive source of authoritative information is the website of the national non-profit, Besides general information, it has contact information for local coordinators in the Bay Area, advice on finding a treating professional, and lists of member therapists. The Selective Mutism Association's annual conference is a great way to network with other parents and therapists if you are able to go. As another parent commented, there are intensive treatment camps during the summer and over holiday weekends. Some include children in your son's age range (see the website's events page). The other things you're doing -- activities, play dates, scouts -- are wonderful, especially when you're lucky enough to find things that the child really likes. They're good for social growth, confidence, and a happy childhood. Speech isn't the only goal, so don't let yourself think that they aren't helping. Those kinds of experiences prepared our son to interact independently with others once he was able to talk. It also helped our son when we learned as much as possible about SM, including how to advocate for him in school. It was important for his school to allow alternative means of communication so he could participate in class and show what he was learning. Once we learned about selective mutism we also tried our best to prevent counter-productive treatment, such as coercion. One big regret is that we kept him in therapy too long with a psychologist who did not understand SM and its relationship to anxiety. I believe that the mis-guided therapy actually did harm by giving him negative messages about his inability to speak. Unfortunately, it led him to believe that therapy doesn't work, so that he later refused therapy when we had access to evidence-based, behavioral approaches. Best of luck, and feel free to contact me.

  • Can anyone recommend a good therapist for a 4yr old with selective mutism? Our daughter chats all day with ONLY myself and husband and will not speak to any other kids or adults (she feels frozen with fear to talk to anyone she says). She won't talk to visitors, other family members, kids - even afraid to say hello or thank you. She whispers to me sometimes when in the presence of others but otherwise is silent. She's been unsuccessful talking at preschool and she feels very anxious there - won't talk or even interact with kids, teachers, anyone. We've paused school for now as she has been petrified to go and can't communicate or even participate properly there. Really want to work with someone who has experience with the specific type of anxiety that manifests as selective mutism in preschoolers. I've known she's had an issue like this even as a baby when she started with intense stranger and separation anxiety which never really abated. I've read below that Dr. Joanna Self might be a resource but she mostly sees teens. Anyone who has good experience with a preschooler? Thank you!! 

    We were exactly where you are 6 years ago. My daughter even stopped speaking to my husband for a few months. We had a hard time getting in to see anyone, but someone recommended this book: It was incredibly helpful! We immediately started implementing the suggestions in the book, and within 3 months (when a therapist finally had some availability), she had started talking to one of her preschool teachers. We held off on therapy, and kept following the guidance in the book with continued success.

    Now, at age 10, she has a leading part in a play. Theater has actually been great - she started just in the chorus (her request) at age 6, and progressed to tiny and then bigger roles. She still tends to freeze up if she unexpectedly becomes the center of attention, and has had to work on speaking up / asking for help in class, but these are completely manageable things. Another great resource, if you haven't already found her, is:

    Kevallyn PaskosSMG State Coordinator / Northern CaliforniaSelective Mutism Advocate  

    EMAIL – SelectiveMutismAwareness [at]


    Good luck!

    This is a few years back but my son was literally saved from his SM by Dr. Joanna Self.
    joannaself [at] .  510-847-8139

    She started seeing my son in middle school and really went the extra mile to help him.  
    Give her a call to chat. 
    We went thru so many therapists who claimed to know SM but she was the only one who really understood how to work
    with kids with SM.  He finally came out of it in 8th grade.  
    My son is now 22 and is the greatest kid in the world. He considers SM part of his past though
    he realizes it has made him the sensitive, very astute person he is today. 
    Wishing you the best. Feel free to contact me.

    Dr. Audrey Boggs helped my son with this issue at age 4. She specializes in selective mutism and actually had the condition herself when younger. She sets up a step-by-step plan - starting with saying one or two words, working up to asking for something in a shop etc. She's in San Rafael but it might be worth the drive. For what it's worth, my son, now 12, grew out of selective mutism by 5 or 6. But Audrey helped him very much.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Oct 2010

Selective Mutism Support Group Northern Calfornia

What is Selective Mutism (SM)? Do you know a child who can talk freely at home but appears frozen in other settings like at school or out in public? Do you know a child who seems so shy that they take a long time to warm up in social situations, if at all? Does it seem out of the normal range of shyness you observe in other children? If so, you may know a child with Selective Mutism. Selective Mutism (SM), is best understood as a childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a child or adolescent's inability to speak in one or more social settings (e.g., at school, in public places, with adults) despite being able to speak comfortably in other settings (e.g., at home with family). In association with , our goal is to provide a local network of families and treating professionals who understand the struggles of SM. We are dedicated to sharing resources and support to those impacted by Selective Mutism (SM). Start seeking information!

Questions Related Pages

I suspect my 4.5 year old has selective mutism

May 2009

Hi parents,

I have read some postings here about selective mutism. After reading more and more about it, i am starting to suspect that my 4.5 year old is showing most of the symptoms of selective mutism. Not sure if i am right or wrong, but can really use some help from other parents who have dealt with this situation earlier.

He is a very bright kid with his drawing/learning etc., skills way above his age level. Talks a lot at home, mostly questions abt why/how etc., He has started preschool last September and has not said a single word in his class ever since. Has not made any friends at school. Now, the situation is becoming worse at home where he is taking a lot longer (arnd 1 hr) to talk to our friends visiting us.

I am kind of lost with where to start, what to do etc., We live in Fremont. So, any good therapists in and around Fremont who have experience in treating this kind of situation? What can be done by parents?

Thanks in advance for all your help.. G

My 14 yo son has had SM since he was about 3 (when I diagnosed it). He now talks to all new adults, all kids. He was on meds for a few years which helped minimally and stunted his growth (he's growing now). My son is on a gluten free diet and takes megadoses of Omega-3 fish oil for focus and anxiety.

But the biggest thing was our therapist, Dr. Joanna Self. She's in Oakland, which is not so close, but not impossible. Her number is 510 847-8139. She REALLY went all out to help our son. She had the whole familiy involved in cognitive exercises for him. I wish I'd known her when he was little. At least call her to see if she knows anyone in your area. It's hard to find a good therapist who really knows how to work with SM...we've been thru a bunch who really didn't know but said they did....I knew more then they did.

The biggest thing is DON''T PRESSURE HIM TO TALK. It makes the anxiety worse. Check out There is a world of info there.

Often SM goes along with other anxiety issues and also learning disabilities. You have to become your son's advocate so people know how to be with him if he's not speaking. Check out the website, call Dr. Self and definatley call me. I have a lot of info and LOTS of experience. Good luck. June

Selective Mutism in 4 yr old boy

Feb 2009

Our 4 yr old son is no longer speaking or making eye contact with anyone other than my husband, myself and one friend at school. It's been difficult for him at school as he is not socializing and responding to the teachers. In addition, he seems to be on an eating strike and is oly eating a few select foods ( carbs) and sweetened soy milk. We've brought him to our pedie and there are no physical reasons for his lack of eating. Though, he has lost a lot of weight and we can't let this go for too much longer.

Has anyone dealt with Selective Mutism (diagosed by a therapist at his preschool and our research online)? If so, are there any local resources for children and families? Or suggestions of how you helped your child find the tools to be more comfortable? Searching for help! Thank you.

My nephew had selective mutism at the same age. After various things were tried, my father in law who is a child psychiatrist suggested he change schools. It worked like a charm. Worth a try if you have the option. Anon

Sounds like a food intolerance. When a child self limits, it's often a sign an addiction to these foods - particularly when it's soy, milk stuff or carbs. If it were me, I would remove these foods and go soy free, gluten free (basically all wheat stuff), casein free (basically all milk stuff)and limit all sugars including fruit (it feeds a likely yeast problem). Soy is NOT a good milk substitute! I know what you are thinking - you're child will starve if you remove the only foods he eats - this is the same reaction I had and the same one I read every day from new members of various yahoo groups I belong to - but after a week or so of removing the foods, the opposite happens! Ask your dr to run a OATS and Peptide test from Great Plains Lab and also a stool analysis. Personally I would skip my regular pediatrician and go to a DAN dr or some alternative medicine practitioner - if your child is losing weight, limited eye contact and language than your regular pediatrician is probably not the best dr for the job and you'll just losing time waiting which is probably what he/she will recommend. Also I'd join a few yahoo groups - you'll learn more from other mothers than you ever will from any dr as even the best don't have the time nor know your child like you do. Good luck. anon

Prozac for 4 year old's selective mutism?

Feb 2009

What have you experienced with Prozac and Selective Mutism? I was against any meds with such a young child 4. But, every case study has shown that the earlier the better and the least amount of time on the medication. Prozac has not been studied for long term effects. DN

There are some very nice websites which discuss selective mutism as a form of social anxiety disorder, since often children will manifest it out in public, such as at school, while at home be quite chatty and outgoing. My personal feeling is that psychotropic drugs are way over-prescribed in our society, and that other forms of intervention should be explored first (i.e. talk or play therapy, removal of stress, the creation of a sense of safety, etc.). In my opinion, drugs should only be used as a last resort when other forms of intervention have failed. That said, I found Paxil enormously effective for my anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. But children's brains are still developing, and no one knows what the long-term effects of these drugs are. Jim

My 13 year old has/had SM since about 3 1/2 yrs old. Yes, they say meds early is best, but the truth is there are no meds that are known to be a ''cure''. You have to try various meds till you hopefully find a good one without too many side affects.

When my son was 9 I finally agreed to put him on Prozac. We started with small doses and built up slowly. It seemed to help somewhat, with no sideaffects, but bottom son didn't start talking. After 2 years on Prozac and my son (small to begin with ) was not growing, I discovered that Prozac is known to stunt growth in pre-adolescent boys. I was furious at our psychiatrist for not telling me this to begin with. I took my son off of the Prozac over the next month and fortunately he started growing again.

Then I met a highly recommended psychiatrist who after a series of tests, had me put my son on high doses of Omega-3 Fish oil. The change was pretty miraculous. His anxiety level decreased hugely. Couple that with a FABULOUS therapist who worked on behavior modification, my son is now speaking to all new people who don't know that he ''doesn't speak''. He went to sleepaway camp last summer for the first time and talked to everyone. He's a different kid. I also put him on a gluten free diet which made him much calmer and nicer (he was very volatile too).\\

I believe that it is not necessary to put SM kids on meds. The medical world and most therapists know so little about nutrition. We are lucky that we found this great psychiatrist. If you e-mail me we can talk further. Been doing this a loooong time. June

3-year-old wiith selective mutism

Nov 2008

Our 3-year old son talks about anything and everything with us, during play dates, with family, etc., but does not talk at school. He's been at the same preschool, which we've been really happy with, for an entire year. I recently volunteered in the classroom , during which time our son talked to me, which really shocked the teachers - they had no idea he could talk as well as he can. Aside from them thinking he can't talk, it's been a problem around the potty, because he won't tell them he has to go and has accidents (at home, he goes all by himself) since the potty is down the hall. I mentioned this to his pediatrician, who said this is called selective mutism and that it's a form of anxiety. I saw some old advice on this in the archives, but am looking for fresh words of wisdom on how to deal. What approach works best from teacher and parent? He seems to have a good time at school - he's excited about going and talks about it afterwards, so why the anxiety while there, manifested in not speaking? His home life is stable, consistent, and happy, and other than a relatively new baby brother (9.5 months), there have been no stresses I can think of. Anyone dealt with this before? anon

Your'e lucky you're aware of it when your child is so to start dealing with it early. Most MD's know very little. There are a few therapists around who are familiar and have worked with SM kids. Check out, Don't worry...and you are not alone. June

I have a teacher's perspective....I have an older student with this, 4th grade. I only see her twice a week but I realized she wasn't talking to me. I used magical thinking. Asked what kind of candy she liked and asked her if jolly ranchers would magically make her talk. She told her friend (the one person she would talk to) yes so I brought them in for the whole class and gave some shpiel that wasn't obvious, but she understood, about how these magic candies would work. At the end of class she said ''Bye'' to me for the first time! Since then she has started talking more and more. I wouldn't necessarily say you should do the same I just think in order to break through this little by little the teachers will need to take it on and try different strategies, especially making your child feel safe and loved. teacher

I suppose times have changed, but your post exactly decribes how my brother was 50 years ago -- didn't say A WORD to anyone at school till the end of kindergarten (it was before the days of preschool), but talked just fine at home. Back then no one panicked, just waited him out, and he's now a perfectly normal adult. If you and the teachers can stand it and there don't seem to be any underlying issues, I'd say just give him time. The Quiet One's Sister

Yes! We have been in your shoes--our daughter was also selectively mute. She chattered up a storm at home, was highly verbal for her age, but other adults rarely saw it, as she was virtually mute around others, particularly in classroom-type settings. Two years ago, just after her third birthday, we decided that her social behavior deserved looking into, and this is when we learned about Selective Mutism--fit her to a T. We immediately sought the help of an integrative doctor, who led us through many lab tests (blood, urine and stool) and the results were stunning. Our daughter's biochemistry was off kilter because her digestion was messed up--the right nutrients weren't getting to her brain, which resulted in social anxiety/muteness; her digestion was messed up because she had very high levels of heavy metals and chemicals. We have spent the last two years detoxing the garbage out and healing her gut. In so doing, she has been transformed. Adults who knew her before and after--that is, before we knew there was an underlying toxicity problem and after we began fixing it--are shocked, with mouths hanging open, at the difference in her social personality. She has gone from being ''shy'' and mute to downright outgoing--her true personality. I know it is easy to read this and think that this couldn't possibly be your son's situation, i.e., how could he possibly be toxic or have GI problems that you don't know about? Trust me--it is possible, and far more common than most people realize. Our kids' immune systems are attacked from the day they are born, with vaccinations, pesticides, and chemicals and metals in our air, food and water. We're living in a different era than even our parents, and certainly our grandparents. This doesn't mean that affectations like selective mutism didn't exist in the past, but it does mean that the rate of incidence has skyrocketed in recent years. I encourage you to look deep, find answers. Please feel free to contact me if you want to chat. Tracy

I did not see your original post but felt I had something to add after reading the responses. I realized that there was something 'different' when my daughter turned two - I was incredibly worried. For the next year I searched for an answer. I ended up removing her from a preschool (not a good fit for her) and having an evaluation by a CBT psychologist. The end result is that it was clear that she had an anxiety disorder - selective mutism. I'm not sure if there is an answer that works for ever child, although there is lots of information - one of the responses to your post (June Kamerling) is a wealth of information and was very helpful to me. She is now in second grade and is doing great. No, she has not become a social butterfly but we have set up a situation where whe can/does succeed. For us that has meant placing her in a small private (alternative) school where there is a focus on social interactions. Initially, I had her in therapy but decided that it was more worthwhile for her to be in social situations. So, we kept her in aftercare (small), set up playdates, and only did social activities that I knew she could manage. Six years later we still struggle, but she is doing great. I would love to talk to you about it if you would like my perspective. berko

I also have a son with Selective Mutism. Some of the best sources of information I've found are the Selective Mutism Group ( and the website of Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum ( There's also an active yahoo group that you can join. The type of anxiety associated with SM is called social anxiety. As a child, I did not have SM but I was socially anxious. I'd describe it as a feeling of intense self-consciousness -- I wanted to avoid attention and always was afraid of what people would think of me. As a child, I thought almost everyone felt that way, of course, but I can see now that my feelings were extreme. It comes from within, more the way you are than a response to any specific situation or experience. Some recent research supports the idea that it's a tendency you're born with. If your son enjoys going to his preschool, my guess is that it's a pretty good setting for him and not the cause of SM. It's really common for children with SM to have difficulties using the bathroom at school, and there are often discussions about this on the yahoo group and the Selective Mutism Group boards. Some children do better in time without any intervention, but most need some help. The emphasis should always be on helping the child reduce the anxiety, not on trying to elicit speech. One good way to start is to set up play dates with children from school that he feels comfortable with, starting with one at a time. Feel free to contact me. Also, I may be able to put you in contact with a local family whose preschooler has SM. Ricki

Evaluating 4-y-o daughter for selective mutism

April 2007

Our daughter who just turned four has always been extremely shy about speaking to strangers. In fact, she just won't speak to them at all -- she freezes up and hangs her head. At home and with her friends she speaks and carries on normally. When she started a new preschool last fall, she didn't speak at all to her teachers for almost three months. Now that she's familiar with them, she speaks some of the time, but they are still concerned about her, and they have recently suggested that we get her evaluated for Selective Mutism. But I'm not sure exactly how to do this. Our pediatrician suggested a behavioral pediatrician, Joan Lovett (who is on our insurance), and I am trying to set up an appointment with her. But perhaps we should be trying a child psychologist (for the anxiety angle) or should we be going the speech-language route? Do any of you have advice and/or specific providers to suggest who have experience with Selective Mutism? (I have read the previous postings on Selective Mutism, and know there are some other families out there who are dealing with this issue. I would love to be in touch with you.) Thanks!

We were in a similar situation and eventually did have our daughter evaluated and she did have lots of anxiety and selective mutism. She started preschool at 3 and wouldn't talk to anyone for most of the first school year, started talking to a teacher or two near the end and then backtracked after summer vacation. After over a year of this and the school working closely with us the whole time, they encouraged us to have her evaluated. On the recommendation of our pediatrician we did see a behavioral pediatrician who did an evaluation and then she sent us to a psychologist who she thought would match our needs.

However, one day when she was about 4.5 she just started talking at school. She is in a Montessori School so she was with the same teachers and many of the same students that she had been with all along so it wasn't because of some change in her situation. She said she just decided to start talking. Her decision followed a period when I was particularly concerned because it seemed that her selective mutism had become more entrenched. Ultimately, though we had been working on the issue for 1.5 years and had consulted all these professionals, I think it was just her decision. I think all we were able to to do was avoid doing things that would make her anxiety worse. Feel free to contact me with any questions you have. Roxanne

An alternative perspective: Our son was a late talker (10 words at 2.5 years) and as a 6-year-old Kindergartener still doesn't talk much in front of other people. In his first year of preschool at 3.5-4.5 years old, he basically didn't talk to any adult and rarely to any child at school. At home he talked freely, although not as much as his peers. We had him tested for hearing and speech and determined there were no physical problems. At the end of his first year of preschool, his teacher suggested that he had selective mutism and that we should get him evaluated. My husband and I spent a lot of time reading up on this topic at the time and also observing our son. He was happy and developing well and he himself didn't seem anxious about his not speaking. He also was steadily speaking more, although always far behind his peers. We decided to adopt a ''wait-and-see'' approach. His pediatrician said that true selective mutism cases can't even respond when asked to ''Open wide and say, Aaaah'', which was not our son's situation. (And sounds like it's not your daughter's situation, if she will talk to her teachers at all after a few months of knowing them.) His preschool teacher the next year felt that he was simply not a big talker and that the selective mutism suggestion was misplaced.

Now that he is 6, he is doing great in Kindergarten. He is still shy but can answer adults briefly; he speaks more casually with his peers. I basically have come to believe that this is more of a personality feature and less of an ''issue'' that needs to be corrected. He likes to observe and take things in before getting fully engaged in something himself. Despite not talking much, his vocabulary is great and he loves words and puns. He answers questions readily in class, though not expansively. I do often try to coach him about what he could say in given situations. ''If Jimmy grabs your toy, you could say, -I'm still playing with that!'' ''If Mrs. T asks you how you liked the book fair, what will you say?''

I'm not advising you to ignore the issue if you and your pediatrician and your daughter's teachers feel that she should be evaluated. But I do think that it's easy to over-react (I did early on). If you feel that she is physically and emotionally healthy, developing well and continuing to improve, maybe you don't need to intervene as much as you might first believe.

Good luck! Anon

8-year-old talks to absolutely nobody in unstructured times

Mar 2006

My son is turning 8 next week and has selective mutism. He has come a long way in the last year and a half at school, he now participates in school by raising his hand and answering questions, reading aloud, and even taking part in plays. I am struggling with the part that is not changing, that being him talking to absolutely nobody in unstructured times. He plays with the kids at recess, but does not talk. I would love for him just to talk to even one, and I have had his best friend over various times, but still nothing. Anyone have any ideas on what else to try?? Terri

HI, My 10 yo son has selective mutism. Selectively Mute kids display their anxiety in different degrees. It's amazing to me that your son talks in class....My son talks to all the kids, but never to his teachers. He whispers to his friends in class, writes notes to the teacher, nods, etc. but does not speak directly to them, nor to any other but a handful of adults in his life.

Have you been to ? This is the website of Dr. Elisea Shipon-Blum, founder of the center, nationally known lecturer of SM. She's an MD, whose daughter had SM and thru her own research, therapies, etc. helped her daughter get over it. I'd love to talk more to you. THere are a handful of kids in this area with Selective Mutism. It's becoming more and more known about.

Above all you cannot expect your son to talk or pressure him to talk. The focus must be aleviating his anxiety and then when he's ready he'll talk. Pressuring or expecting these kids to talk just piles on more anxiety which will get us further from the result we ultimately want...for them to talk. Does your son talk to these same friends in your home? In their homes? In smaller groups? Is your son on medication for SM? Has that been suggested? Would you ever consider that?

We put our son on Prozac last July. I waited that long because I couldn't see putting my child on medication. I have to say the Prozac has helped a lot....he's still not speaking to teachers/adults but he's come a long way in a few months.

Dr. Blum has some very helpful literature on her site. I'm thinking since your son is 8, you probably know way more than someone with a younger child. Please get in touch with me so we can talk further. But meanwhile, if you haven't alredady, check out Dr. Blum's website.

Good luck. This is a tricky one. June

Have you tried ''Helping Your Child With Selective Mutism'', by Angela E. McHolm Ph.D, Charles E. Cunningham, Ph.D., and Melanie K. Vanler, M.A. Sylvia

School for bright 7th grader diagnosed with Selective Mutism

Nov 2004

My daughter is going to 7th grade next but I am worry that she will be lost in such a large school. She was diagnosed with Selective Mutism. She has no friends at and does not speak at all school. At home and with certain people (counsins, aunties) she has no trouble speaking. She is determine to start talking in another next school year...start all over again in another environment. She is very smart...excellent writer and loves to read...not so strong in math but did really well with the STAR test. All the teachers she had recommended her to join the GATE (Gitfted And Talented Education? program but she does not want to join.

We live in Richmond and I want to find a school near by. My daughter likes music...more into the rock/punk type. She is learning guitar but likes to start learning the drum. The school she now attending does not reflect her personality and talents. I believe she needs a program where children's individualism is respected. Perhaps, a small school with high academic standard and high emphasis on social skills. If any one know of any schools around the Richmond, El Cerrito to Berkeley area please list names and locations. Thank you for your help! anonymous

Recommendations received:

  • Community School of the East Bay
  • (2)
  • Orinda Academy
  • Pacific Academy
  • Windrush School

    Therapist for child with selective mutism

    Jan 2004

    I've posted this request here before, but it's been a while.... I'm looking for a therapist or psychiatrist who has successfully treated children with the social anxiety called Selective Mutism. It's a pretty limited pool cause SM is just becoming more widely known of and treated. Any recommendations will be appreciated. Thanks, June

    I am also looking for a therapist for my 7-year old for SM. I did meet with a wonderful therapist named Dr. Doris Sami in Santa Rosa. She is listed on the selectivemutism website. She met with my daughter once, but the distance from the East Bay makes it hard to schedule follow ups - and she also didn't seem able to take on new patients at the time. I was planning to write her though and see if she had any other suggestions. Her e- mail and phone are on the site. One friend has suggested the Center for Cognitive Therapy in Oakland, which deals with anxiety disorders in adults and children. I have not investigated further because my insurance would probably not cover that, but their phone no. is 510-652-4455. Sarah M.

    How has your Selectively Mute child fared in public school?

    Feb 2003

    My daughter is extremely shy in school - sometimes termed selective mutism. We are just re-locating to Berkeley from overseas and are a bit anxious about how the public schools here deal with this kind of issue. Does anyone have children with similar problems and/or do the schools seem able to handle kids with these kinds of anxiety problems?
    parent in Berkeley

    My son is Selectively Mute and is now in 2nd grade in our local public school. He's never spoken to his school teachers, but he does speak to the kids. He gets along fine. I've always met with the teachers before hand (and principal) to explain his situation and advise them on how to best work with him. I have a packet of info from They will mail you a brochure adn articles you can pass on to the teachers.

    You can also go to the class and ask for a few minutes to explain to all the kids.

    I find that the kids ''take care'' of my son and are very helpful. Given that SM is not a learning problem, there is really no ''special ed'' available since the child won't speak to people he/she doesn't know. It's a tough situation. I'd be happy to talk to you more about it. If you can't find e-mail me and I'll mail you a copy of my info.

    I'm wondering how old your child is and how well she (I thnk you said daughter?) warms up to kids. Does she eventually speak to adults? My son doesn't usually....there are a few random ''new'' adults that he occasionally will speak to, Camp counselors,etc. There is a handful of adults in his life that he does speak to other than me and my husband.

    Good luck with this situation. Contact me if you want to talk more. June

    I am the mother of a selectively mute child in the Berkeley public schools. If you'd like to send me email, I'd be happy to discuss our experience with you. Ricki

    School for 3rd grader with Selective Mutism

    December 2002

    My 7 1/2 year old son is currently in 2nd grade at our local public school. So far his teachers have been wonderful, however, my son has a social phobia called Selective Mutism. He speaks to some people and not others. In his case, he speaks to most kids, and a handful of adults. Never to adults he doesn't know, even after he knows them. He needs warm up time to new situations. The 3rd grade teachers at our public school will not be good matches for him so we are looking into private schools.

    The 2 that I'm interested in hearing about are East Bay Waldorf School and Black Pine Circle. Both were recommended to me as schools that teach in a different way than public schools.My son is not very motivated in school, though he's very bright, loves math, is extremely creative and agile. I think because of his non verbal-ness in school he's slow to learn to read (doesn't seem to have any learning disabilities). I'll be going on school tours in the next few months. I'd like to hear from parents with kids at either of these schools. Good experience? Bad experience? How do they work with children who don't follow ''the norm'' of kids. (My son plays and talks to kids with no problem after the initial ''shyness'' wears off, but has never spoken any words to his teachers, though he gets his messages across nonverbally).

    I'm interested to hear your opinions and stories about the two above schools...also any other really great schools....convenience is somewhat of a factor. We live in East Richmond. I'm just not willing to drive to Oakland every morning. Thanks for info. June

    Reviews received:

  • Black Pine Circle
  • East Bay Waldorf School
  • Our School
  • Tehiyah Day School

    How we successfully treated our daughter's selective mutism

    August 2003

    Re: Social phobia: selective mutism.

    There were a few times when I saw postings from the parents of the children who have Selective mutism, and finally decided to share my experience with this disorder. My daughter was diagnosed with it after she didn't speak in her preschool for 1 1/2 years, and after she stopped speaking even to her grandparents (with whom she spoke before). When she was 4 1/2 she spoke only with her parents, and only if there was nobody around. That is when we realized that she is not just shy and quiet, but there is something else going on. So I called behavioral therapy in Kaiser, got appointment right away, and my daughter got a diagnose Selective Mutism. To tell the truth I was shocked that my little beatifull daughter was diagnosed with a disorder from psychiatric text book. Now I understand that we were very lucky to know it when she was so young and didn't start school yet. Later you start harder it is to help the child.

    The reason why I am writing this posting is that we were able successfully treat it. If you meet my daughter now (she is 10 yo) outside school you would never even guess that this child was not talking in public situations for two years. We still have some problems at school though. At school she is much quieter than other kids (and believe it or not but this is a problem for many teachers). If she is asked a question she needs about 30 sec to think before she can answer it (even if she knows the answer) and she uses minimum words to answer it. I talk with her teachers at the beginning of each grade, tell them about Selective Mutism and ask them to make a few adjustments for her, such as giving her more time for oral answers and such. Outside school she is very outgoing, has lots of friends, and not quiet.

    What we did. Read all possible information from the internet, joined Selective mutism chat rooms (learned a lot from other parents), ordered a book ''Selective Mutism'' through UC Berkeley interlibrary service and read about possible treatments.

    What didn't help at all:

    --- Play therapy. Our therapist was very skillfull with play therapy, and there were some improvements in communication between her and my daughter but this didn't have ANY effect on communication between my daughter and outside world, and that is what really important. To clarify the situation, my daughter was very good in communicating her thoughts and needs in non verbal ways, so this skill didn't need any improvements. We really wanted her to talk.
    --- Using bribery, reasonning, punishment didn't help.
    --- I read a lot about using antidepressants and there success in treating Selective Mutism in children and adults, but because my daughter was so young, and her history of non-talking was relatively short, we decided to try non-medicated techniques first.

    What really helped:

    --- Treating Selective Mutism as other types of phobia. The book I mentioned above talked a lot about desensitization technique, so we decided to start with it. The same technique might be used for example for treating spider phobia. It is hard for me to write in a few words specific things we did but we had a tremendous success. We started using it in January-February and when my daughter came to kindergarten in September she could wisper to her teachers and classmates. She could sing in holiday show in December, and was able to talk(the first time in her life after being in prescool for two years) during show and tell in the class.

    As you can see I am very passionate about this topic and can write forever. I also realize that this is still a rare disorder and there are not many people on this list who are interested in it. But if somebody is I will be very happy to share details and specifics of the therapy we used with my daughter. I still remember the frustration and the feeling of helplessness of those years. The first time I got a note from the teacher that my daughter talked too much during the lesson I thought to be my happiest day. :)))


    My 3-yr-old only talks to family

    November 2002

    I finally decided I need to ask other parents' advice on this one:

    My 3-yr-old daughter just would not talk to anyone other than her family. She is otherwise very assertive, opinionated and easy-going. At home, she can have a discussion, make an argument, make up her own song or poetry, but just would not talk at all to anyone outside her immediate family. She has been going to the same preschool 3 days a week for 10 months now. She plays with other children but would not talk to them neither to her teachers. Same happens in the park, at BD parties, at her art & music classes. Recently, she even stated it so: ''I do not talk to anyone but my mommy, daddy, and Anya (her big sister) because I don't need to.''

    At this point, it starts being a little odd, especially when people ask me surprised: She cannot talk yet? My husband suggests that we start sending her to her preschool full-time to force her interaction with children and adults outside of home, yet neither he nor myself are quite sure that it will do the trick, since she has a lot of social interaction as it is, and this will deprive her (and her mom) of some quality time together. Besides, if it has to do with her personality (nature as opposed to nurture), then this will not achieve a thing.

    Just for the record: Our older daughter is 6.5 and she has always been the most outgoing child I knew in my life, and she never stops talking.

    I'm sure someone on the network has been in a similar situation. Could you please tell me how you worked through it? Maria

    I believe your child may have something called ''selective mutism.'' I don't know much about it, but here's a web site where you could get started. Karen

    Your story is identical to mine. Once I mentioned to her preschool teacher that she had told me about a class discussion on winter solstice, the teacher said, ''What? Your daugher could talk?'' Yes, like yours, she's very verbal, loves to talk and likes to make up stories, songs and rhymes -- only at home. Thanks to the wonderful teachers at Cedar Creek Montessori, which she has been attending since last Sept., she talks to her classmates and teachers for the first time ever, although it took quite a few months. These are the reasons, I think, that contributed to her change of behavior:
    -Her teachers were super patient and relaxed about it.
    -Students were told that my daughter was not yet ready to talk but she would when she's ready. That took the pressure off her and made her feel safe when she finally began to talk.
    -Nobody made a big deal when one day she popped a question to a teacher (afterward they called me as soon as they could to share the good news!)
    -Positive reinforcement/rewards. I bought tons of presents, all wrapped with cute wrapping paper and ribbons, and told my daughter that she could open a present if she had talked to a teacher that day -- even just saying Yes/No or Thank You. It seemed to work. Meanwhile, she began talking to her classmates, first just one, then a few more, and started developing close relationships with some of them.
    -We visited a pediatric psychiatrist at Kaiser. He shared some techniques with us and did a few one-to-one sessions with my daughter, who wouldn't talk at first, of course, but later had no problem communicating and interacting with him. I'm not sure how much the visits helped but I think they more or less raised her awareness of the issue, making her ''think'' about it more objectively.

    My daughter is now almost 5, still shy but much happier at school. Things started getting better when she turned 4, as I remember. It was a lot of work but it all paid off when a teacher called one day and told me they, for the first time, had to ask my daughter to be quiet becuase she talked too much.

    Please feel free to contact me if you'd like to share more thoughts and ideas. Chris

    I knew of a 4 year old girl who was diagnosed with selective mutism, a condition in which an individual has such a high level of anxiety about speaking to certain others (usually outside their family). The condition was often dismissed as shyness and somehow the child was able to manipulate those around her to communicate without her ever having to speak. She only spoke to her immediate family and some children. Even friends and daycare providers couldn't get her to talk and that went on for years. You should ask your daughter's pediatrician if this is what your daughter could be experiencing. There are websites that address this condition, which can be treatable in various means. Good luck. anon
    It sounds like your daughter(is it a girl,I've forgotten what your letter said...sorry if I have it wrong)has behaviors of a social phobia called Selective Mutism. Less than 1% of kids have this but enough that it has a name.

    Children with SM (we discovered our 7 year old had it between 3 and 4) typically speak to their parents and siblings and maybe a few other people. The intensity of the behavior varies. Sometimes kids will not even speak to their parents if someone they don't speak to is in the room. A family I know who's child has SM doesn't speak to any kids either, though he has lots of friends and he communicates non verbally. Our son now speaks quite comfortably with most kids. It used to take him at least 45 minutes to warm up to any situation and speak to any new person, so the fact that now he speaks to kids and doens't need warm up time is a great step. He doesn't speak to any new adult. There are about 10 or so adults in our life that he speaks to.

    Usually they grow out of it by 9 or 10, but not always. Some times anti anxiety drugs are used but they have side effects. SM is a social anxiety. People think it's related to autism because of the muteness but it has nothing to do with it. Most SM kids are quite bright and have a great vocabulary when they are speaking.

    Typically parents think their toddlers are extremely shy and don't realize there is something else going on untill they go to pre-school or kindergarten and aren't talking to teachers, kids, etc.

    Our son used to talk to everyone in his pre-school, but he has not spoken to his K, 1st or 2nd grade teacher. We ask that the teachers give him plenty of opportunity to talk without embarassing him or being unkind. We also ask the teachers not to allow other kids to speak for him. He has to somehow make his needs known. He does.

    My son once told me, when I suggested that he could say hello to one of my friends, that he wants to speak but no voice will come. He said he felt like something was in his throat not letting him speak.

    We've done play/art therapy with no results and in fact I think that the therapist allowing him not to speak helped cement his non-verbal patterns.

    We've tried all kinds of bodywork too, cranio-sacral, particular forms of chiropractic adjustments, osteopathy....all fabulous therapies, but no particular changes.

    Behavior modification is said to be the best therapy for SM kids. For example our son used to whisper to us when someone he didn't speak to was in the room. We told him he couldn't do that anymore and that he had to use a regular voice. Eventually he did that and now, though he won't call to me across the room, he will talk to me in his normal voice when others are around. There is a Selective Mutism foundation. If you just key in or something similar it will take you to 1 or 2 places. You can get some printed info. It's a really interesting behavior.

    I suggest that you don't overprotect your daughter. There must be kids that she likes, even if she doesn't speak. Arrange play dates. Explain to the other parents that she ''may not'' speak to them. In some cases you have to let the other kids speak for her.

    There are 2 other people in Berkeley and one in Hayward that I know of who's children have Selective Mutism. One child is about 9 or 10, and the others are about 5 or 6 or so. I have a friend in Albany who's daughter seems to mostly have outgrown it, though when out in the world is pretty quiet. We've talked about trying to get together as a support group but it hasn't happened yet.

    By the way, my pediatrician and other MD's I had spoken to had never heard of it so I recommend you get the info you need and self diagnose. Don't expect too much help from the MD's. I would be happy to talk to you further about it...I could go on and on. Please feel free to e-mail me. June

    My ten-year-old son speaks like a pretty typical kid with his parents and siblings, but he speaks to no one else and doesn't speak at school. His not talking first became apparent in preschool, which was the first time he was exposed to a large group situation on a regular basis. It took us a few years to learn that there is a name for his condition, Selective Mutism. Kids with Selective Mutism are capable of speech -- they talk in some social settings, but not in others. It is believed to be related to an extreme self-consciousness or social discomfort beyond normal shyness. I wonder if you would think this applies to your daughter. People are finding that children with Selective Mutism can be helped a lot, but that the prognosis is better the earlier that the child receives appropriate support. The recommended approach is to never pressure the child to speak, but to help them become more comfortable and take small steps towards gradual progress. The condition is relatively uncommon and is often misunderstood, so many teachers and psychologists know little about it. A lot of suggestions well-meaning people make can make things worse, because they increase the child's discomfort or worries. Some recommend waiting until the child ''grows out of it,'' but although some children improve on their own many others, like my son, get worse over time without help. If you want to learn more, two websites to check out are, including the open forum you get to by clicking on a box near the bottom of the home page, and It's great that your daughter is playing with the other children at preschool and getting so much social interaction. I think you are right to be cautious about increasing her time at preschool, because if social discomfort is a factor, making her go full time could make her more uncomfortable and inhibited. If you'd like to contact me, I'd be happy to talk with you. Ricki

    Extremely shy 9 year old

    September 2002

    Help! My soon-to-be 9 year old daughter is extremly shy. It is very difficult for her to make friends. So far she had only 1 true friend and this school year the friend moved away. I asked her if anyone in her class talk to her. She said yes but the problem is she does not talk back! From what I can get out of her, she is very nervous about what to say and how to say it. It is affecting her classwork becuase now that she is in 4th grade she needs to do partner work. At home she is fine. Any suggestions would be helpful!

    I'm curious to know if your daughter talks to her teacher. Does she just take a long time to warm up or does she never talk to some people? My 7 year old son has a ''social phobia'' called Selective Mutism. He speaks to some people, and not others....takes a long time to warm up to kids and new people and sometimes never speaks to certain adults. It is beyond being extremely shy. If your daughter seems abnormally shy (selectively mute?) I'd be happy to talk to you more about this situation and what we do to help our son. We use behavior modification techniques and a lot of positive reinforcement. Please e-mail me if you'd like to talk more. June
    First, you may have already done this, but it would probably be helpful to check with her teacher to get another perspective on what is going on in the classroom. Is she equally shy with everyone? Or is she just having a hard time connecting with her peers? Is she herself really unhappy about her shyness? If she is really suffering, she might benefit from some counseling.

    Second, some practical advice that might help your daughter. A friend's daughter had a similar problem, though she was a little older (11). She started going to a large school after being home- schooled and leading a pretty isolated life. She simply didn't know the nuts and bolts of how to meet new people, and felt very intimidated by it all, so she didn't have any friends for a while. What helped her was actually learning ''scripts'' for approaching new friends (her college-age cousins helped her with this). They thought of a few good ''openers'' (complimenting someone, asking for advice, etc.), and also a few good ''closers'' to help her back out gracefully if the other person didn't seem very friendly. They told her to pick a few kids who seemed friendly and not too deeply involved in a ''group'', and to try to strike up a conversation with them. They also told her to make a point of speaking up in class at least once every day or two, just to get used to hearing her own voice. This was challenging for her, but it did help. The main point of this that might be useful for your daughter is the insight that social skills are not magic, they can be practised and learned. Maybe you or someone else (closer in age might be easier) could help her with this - actually rehearse small conversations with role plays.

    Other things that might help her are finding some other small group situations - some kind of class, maybe, or Scouts - a situation where she can make a fresh start. By now she probably already feels very self-conscious about her shyness and her lack of friends at school. The less other people talk about her being shy, the better! Also, maybe helping her develop her self- esteem - at this age many girls are already worrying about their bodies and their image - by developing some of her skills and interests so that she feels really good about at least some aspects of her life.

    Finally, keep supporting her with the message that she is OK and that she will make some friends soon! For some people it just takes a little longer. Remind her it's OK not to be super outgoing, the important thing is to meet a few people she really likes to spend time with.

    Best of luck to her!

    Because of innate character, family dynamics, and a move I was a very shy 11 year-old. Unfortunately my parents didn't have the mental energy to help me and it took me until my late twenties to help myself. I believe you are right to be concerned. Shyness can deprive a person of important social experiences and contacts. What I found helped me become much less shy was to put myself in groups that were having fun. This helped me be social and get feedback about myself, that I was fun or funny or just a normal person, instead of confirming the fears that kept me isolated. So I would encourage you to have her engage in whatever group activites she would enjoy doing. Best of luck to you both. anon
    I have a son in 4th grade who also appears to be extremely shy. He speaks to no one at school. Like the child of another person who responded to this posting, he has a condition called Selective Mutism. Much of what you said about your daughter seemed familiar. Children with Selective Mutism vary a lot. Some speak in a soft voice to a teacher, but not in front of the whole class; some talk to other children, but not to adults; many talk to friends outside of school, but perhaps not at school. What they have in common is that they are capable of speaking but fail to speak in certain kinds of social situations. My son's symptoms are pretty severe -- he currently speaks only to members of the immediate family and only when he feels that no one else can hear him. It is believed that Selective Mutism is related to anxiety, sort of an extreme self-consciousness. For some reason the child freezes up and cannot respond when expected to speak. Sometime there is some mild language difficulty underlying the anxiety, and a child might worry about saying the wrong thing or not being able to say what he or she means. We've learned that a lot of things people try to do to ''help'' are actually counterproductive -- trying to force or encourage my son to speak actually makes him more anxious and more inhibited about speaking. We've worked hard to try to educate his school about his condition and to make sure that he still gets a good education, even if he's not speaking. It's important for them to understand that he is unable to speak, and that he's not willfully refusing to speak. He has become more expressive in class since becoming more comfortable at school. Two web sites about Selective Mutism are and (take a look at the open forum, which you get to by clicking on a box near the bottom of the home page). I'd love to connect with any parents who are facing related issues. Ricki