Selective Mutism

Selective Mutism (SM) is characterized by a persistent failure to speak in one or more social situations for at least 1 month (not limited to the first month of school). Children usually develop SM before the age of 5, however it may not be diagnosed until school-age when the disturbance because more noticeable and interfering. Children are usually able to speak comfortably if at home with their immediate family. In less familiar settings or when unfamiliar people are around, children may feel unable to speak.

SM is often misinterpreted as oppositionality (i.e. by teachers or other adult figures) because the child refuses to speak in certain settings but is able to speak in comfortable situations. However, SM is due to anxiety rather than a behavioral problem.

Symptoms

Rather than speaking, children with SM often communicate with:

  • Gestures
  • Nodding or shaking their head
  • Pulling or pushing
  • Using only short phrases
  • Whispering

Similar to Social Phobia, children with SM may also be:

  • Excessively shy
  • Fearful of social embarrassment
  • Be socially isolated or withdrawn

SM is not diagnosed if a child’s difficulty speaking is due to:

  • Discomfort with the language
  • Oppositionality (although SM due to anxiety about speaking in particular situations is often misinterpreted as oppositionality)
  • Inability to speak
  • Another communication disorder

BU Brave Buddies Program

The BU Brave Buddies program is a week-long intensive group treatment program for children who have been diagnosed with selective mutism or have difficulty speaking in social or school situations with familiar and/or unfamiliar peers and adults. This program is modeled after the Brave Buddies summer treatment program developed by Dr. Steven Kurtz of the Child Mind Institute, and simulates a classroom, which provides guided opportunities for children to interact with a number of new children and adults, participate in classroom-like activities, engage in field trips, and play socializing games that promote verbal participation and spontaneous speaking. For more information, see the Brave Buddies Program page, call the Center at 617-353-9610, or e-mail Dr. David Langer at dalanger@bu.edu.