It is important to remember that children with selective mutism can present in many different ways. There is no single list of symptoms that describes every child. One aspect of selective mutism that is consistent, however, is the child’s inability to speak “normally” in certain situations. In this case, “normal” communication for the child refers to the way in which they communicate when they are relaxed and at ease. Their difficulty speaking may depend on who is present, where they are, and/or what they are doing. Communication might look different for each child with selective mutism when they are uncomfortable. Some children won’t be able to move their body, some will only be able to communicate nonverbally, some may whisper. Below is a list of common traits in children with selective mutism. Some children might experience one or just a few of the items below, while others might experience many of them. If you have concerns about a child, it is important to pursue an evaluation with a professional who has experience with selective mutism. Through an evaluation, the professional can help you determine whether the child has a diagnosis of selective mutism.

Children with selective mutism MIGHT:

  • Appear rigid and “frozen” when uncomfortable
  • Be able to nod or gesture only
  • Use whispering or alternative voice (baby, singing) when uncomfortable
  • Appear oppositional
  • Not be able to ask for help if they are hurt, lost, have a question, or need to use the restroom
  • Have trouble initiating speech or gestures
  • Be unable to eat at school and/or in public
  • Be unable use the bathroom in public/may have toileting accidents outside of the home
  • Not be able to respond in a group setting
  • Have more difficulty answering open ended questions
  • Be unable to assert preferences or make choices
  • Behave very differently at home than in public
  • Not appear anxious, even in situations in which they are silent

Children with selective mutism may exhibit typical speech in certain situations outside of the home; however, may be unable to speak in other situations. If this situation occurs, it does not rule-out a diagnosis of selective mutism.