My 5 year old daughter appears to have selective mutism. What should be done when other children state ‘so and so can’t talk or doesn’t talk?? should they be scolded? When my daughter does not answer a question addressed to her, should I intervene and answer it for her?

I witnessed an incident a few months ago where several children were sort of holding my daughter down and saying “she can’t talk, she can’t talk”, and laughing and so forth. They were obviously making fun of her, and I did not know whether I should have told them they should not do that, or it it rude, or something. There have been other incidents where children will make remarks about my daughter’s lack of speaking, and I am not sure how to handle it. Sometimes when I pick her up from school, her classmates will come up to me and say, “Oh, your her mom. She doesn’t talk.” This is said in front of her which I don’t think helps the situation. I am not sure generally how to handle comments from other children or even adults. I don’t think it is helpful to her to hear these things, but don’t know what I can or should do about it.

Answer

J……, your question is a very common concern among SM parents…I hear stuff like this all of the time. Unfortunately, children and adults are going to make comments. Most of the time, children are innocent and are just saying it the way they see it…. I have had more parents tell me that peers of their Selective Mute child are always coming up to them asking them (the parents) why their child does not speak. It is hard to answer this. My recommendation would be to smile, act like it is no big deal and say, “well, ‘so and so’ can be quiet, but she talks nonstop at home!” If the other child then says,” then why doesn’t she talk at school.?” Your comment can be….”she will, when she is ready”. Just down play the situation. Other children are just curious and often this answer suffices.. Regarding other adults…You can answer similarly…..I don’t recommend telling others that ‘she is just shy’… I hate LABELS! and your child is not just shy……..

Regarding your child….my advice is to spend some one on one time with her and gently bring up what happened in school. You can tell her that you know it must have been hard for her and that you understand. Tell your child that kids do not mean to hurt you but are curious…and you can bring up an example of something that may intrigue your child.

I have found that in the majority of cases, peers are actually very protective of their SM classmate…They often help them out in tough situations by telling others that do not know they are mute that ‘so and so does not talk’. This is tough for the SM child, but as far as they know, the child does not talk. Hopefully over time, with treatment your child will overcome SM….and ‘talking’ will not be as much of an issue.

Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum