Selective Mutism And Stuttering In Children



Selective Mutism and Stuttering are two of the socially disabling disorders that children can experience in their childhood years. According to Rachel Busman, PsyD, “Selective Mutism (SM) is first & foremost an anxiety disorder in which a child who is otherwise chatty or talkative can’t talk in other settings, like school or with friends.” Learning everything about these conditions can prepare you on how to deal with it especially if your child is exhibiting symptoms.

Selective Mutism Symptoms

Selective Mutism is an anxiety disorder with the distinct characteristic of persistently failing to speak whenever it is expected, despite being capable to do so in other times. This happens usually during social situations.

The disorder can hinder these aspects of a child’s life:

  • Educational Aspect
  • Occupational Achievement
  • Social Communication

In order for it to be considered a disorder, it must be experienced for at least a month. This is not limited to children’s first month in school, where they can still be reluctant to speak.



It is not also considered selective mutism if the child’s reason for failing to speak is due to the following:

  • Being uncomfortable in the situation
  • Having nothing or lack of knowledge about the subject being talked about
  • Disturbance is due to the embarrassment of having other communication disorders like stuttering
  • If it occurs ONLY during pervasive development disorders including psychotic disorders like schizophrenia
  • Being unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the official language in a new country (Like immigrant children)

A social situation is required for this kind of disorder and instead of the usual verbalization done in communication, children opt to communicate through:

  • Gestures
  • Monosyllabic Words
  • Short Words
  • Monotone Utterances
  • Altered Voice
  • Associated Features

Some of the associated features of selective mutism are:

  • Excessive Shyness
  • Social Isolation and Withdrawal
  • Compulsive Traits
  • Temper Tantrums
  • Controlling or Oppositional Behavior
  • Negativism
  • Clinging
  • Fear of Social Embarrassment
  • Severe Social and School Functions Impairment

There is a big chance that children suffering from this disorder will be teased by his peers. And since children usually have normal language skills, this disorder may be associated with the following communication disorders that can cause articulation abnormalities and other disorders such as:

  • Phonological Disorder
  • Excessive Language Disorder
  • Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder
  • Anxiety Disorders (Especially Social Phobia)
  • Mental Retardation
  • Hospitalization
  • Extreme Psychosocial Stressors

Selective mutism is rare and only found in less than 0.05 percent of the children in the general school settings. It is also a little more common in females than in males.


Stuttering Symptoms


Stuttering is a disorder that features a disturbance in the normal time pattern and fluency of speech, which is usually inappropriate with the person’s age. According to Sarah Schewitz, PsyD, “Everybody stutters sometimes. But if you have a persistent stammer (like King George from The King’s Speech), it can be a challenge to talk to anybody, especially your crush.” Most common in childhood years, this disorder may be accompanied with some motor movements, including the following:

  • Eye Blinks
  • Tremors of the Lips or Face
  • Breathing Movement
  • Tics
  • Jerking of the Head
  • Fist Clenching

At first, the child may not even be aware of having this problem. In order to avoid showing this disorder, the child may use the following linguistic mechanisms:

  • Altering the Rate of Speech
  • Avoiding Certain Sounds or Words
  • Avoiding Speech Situations like Public Speaking or Telephoning

Some of the effects that stuttering can provide include:

  • Impairment of Social Functions
  • Associated Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Low Self-esteem
  • Limitations on Occupational Choice or Advancement
  • Specific Symptoms of Stuttering
  • Some of the symptoms of stuttering include:
  • Sound and Syllable Repetitions
  • Interjections
  • Audible or Silent Blocking (Unfilled or Filled Pauses in Speech)
  • Words Produced with Physical Tension Excess
  • Sound Prolongations
  • Broken Words
  • Circumlocutions
  • Monosyllabic Whole-word Repetitions


Treatment and Therapy for Kids with Selective Mutism and Stuttering Disorders

One of the best ways to combat selective mutism in kids is through behavioral therapy. “Individual intensive treatment is often beneficial for children who are not yet ready for a group setting or who fall outside of the age range for our groups,” says Rachel Busman, PsyD, ABPP and her team of psychiatrists.As for stuttering, there are various options like stuttering therapy, speech therapy or other behavior therapy programs focused on communicating.