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Have you ever known a child who easily speaks, laughs, plays, acts silly, becomes bossy, or argues with siblings or parents? Doesn't that describe most children? Some of those children seem to enjoy permanently remaining "center stage." Others are more reserved outside of their home and display calmer, quieter behavior at these times. These behaviors are common among children and adults and would not seem to be cause for concern.

But what if a child behaves as just described at home, yet that same child will not utter a sound in other situations, such as at school or groups? Perhaps a teacher has commented, "We have never heard your child's voice!" and you are certain the teacher has mistaken you for another child's parent because your child is a virtual chatterbox at home.

Imagine a child roughhousing and shouting with a friend or sibling one minute, but instantly getting a blank facial expression and appearing to "freeze" when someone else comes in the room. The person entering the room may even be someone they know quite well, such as a grandparent or their friend's mother.Perhaps the relative or friend is hurt or offended because your child will talk to a stranger, but not to them. Or maybe it has been insinuated that you are allowing your child to be rude and should improve your parenting skills. Still others believe your child is trying to get attention and their sudden bouts of silence are one big act.All you know is that your child is struggling and you want to fix it.

The child pictured above (Jeff) was diagnosed with Selective Mutism at age 3. He would be playing and laughing one minute but in an instant he would freeze up and look like he does in the picture on the left. That picture was taken the week he was diagnosed. His mother began years of researching the disorder and working with a specialized child therapist to develop strategies to help her son learn to cope with whatever was inhibiting him. She hoped to at least help Jeff be able to one day enjoy playing until he tired himself out; not just until something caused him to come to a screeching halt. The strategies she tried far exceeded her best hopes. The picture on the right shows Jeff as he typically looked when playing with other children just 18 months later. Imagine the joy when the child who could not make eye contact or say his own name aloud on the first day of kindergarten reached his "senior" year in elementary and was EXCITED speak to an auditorium packed with people to deliver a speech to follow in his big brother's footsteps as class president! Jeff has shown no signs of Selective Mutism for over six years now.

If a child has no problem speaking in some situations, but is unable to speak in other situations, he/she may be suffering with Selective Mutism (SM) which is an anxiety disorder and renders the child powerless over his/her ability to speak at times. A child who has SM is often mistakenly perceived as manipulative, stubborn, spoiled, in need of some discipline, defiant or engaging in some kind of power struggle. Often people suspect these children must be victims of abuse or trauma which has induced almost catatonic states at times. They may also be incorrectly diagnosed as autistic. What they are actually experiencing is a physiological response to the expectation to speak, triggering a temporary paralysis of the vocal chords. A person with SM CANNOT CONTROL his/her inability to speak at times and cannot consciously make their voice surface, nor can they be coerced into speaking.

If your instincts tell you that your child's silence is more than "just shyness",


Your child may look perfectly fine but may be silently suffering!