10 year old boy who seems to fit selective mutism

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!

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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: https://www.selectivemutism.org/find-help/find-a-treating-professional/. 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] hotmail.com.    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, https://www.selectivemutism.org. 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.