Selective Mutism: Do’s and Don’ts


Remove All Direct Pressure To Speak

It is important to remove all pressure to speak, in order for them to feel comfortable and at ease around you. Anyone who interacts on a regular basis with someone who has Selective Mutism needs to be taught to remove all pressure around speaking. This is one of the most important things that you can do for them.

“Expectation of speech and focusing on talking actually increases anxiety and reinforce muteness.” – The Highly Sensitive Child Blog

“Maintain the child’s need to communicate by creating opportunities but not expectations for them to speak.” – Get Hackney Talking Article

Accept Nonverbal Communication

If they are comfortable with {pointing, shaking their heads, nodding or writing} then allow and accept these. Don’t encourage these all the time though, and move on to more verbal communication when they are feeling more comfortable. It is a good idea to also offer them choices between answering nonverbally or verbally when speaking to them. This will help them to choose what they feel comfortable with at that specific moment.

It is also really important to remember that there are some who might not even be able to communicate nonverbally when they are anxious. Selective Mutism affects everyone differently.

Allow For Warm-Up Time

Allow the individual with Selective Mutism to warm up to any new situation, and new people. Be patient with them, and give them the chance to warm up to you.

Wait 5 Seconds For A Response

A slow response time can be a common characteristics for individuals with Selective Mutism. They may need some time to think of an answer. Therefore it is important to wait 5 seconds to allow time to respond, without repeating the question. It is also important to allow for hesitation as this can also be a common characteristics for someone with SM.

Ask Forced-Choice Questions

“Do you want the green or red crayon?” “Do you prefer pizza or hamburgers?” These are the least anxiety provoking questions to answer as they don’t require the individual with SM to have to think of a response.

Acknowledge Their Fear Of Speaking

Let them know that you understand that they find it hard to talk at times.

Follow Their Pace

Everyone with Selective Mutism is different. So make sure that you follow their pace. Don’t push them to speak in situations which they are not ready for. This will only make them feel more anxious. Selective Mutism requires a lot of patience, and people who has this can overcome it by taking small and manageable steps.

Be Sensitive With Your Words

A person with selective mutism can still hear you, even though they may not speak, so it is important to be kind and sensitive with your words. They usually listen a lot more than they speak. Don’t say anything in front of them thinking that they can’t hear you.


Don’t Appear Upset If They Don’t Speak To You

Remember that they want to speak to you but they can’t due to anxiety, so don’t take it as an offence and make it about you.

Don’t Make Them Speak

Making them talk won’t work. Anxiety is the reason why they can’t talk. Therefore, it is important to change your mindset from asking, “How can I make them talk? To, How can I help them conquer their crippling anxiety?”

Don’t Try To Be The One Who Gets Them To Speak

Trying to get them talk to you won’t make it any easier for them. It will just increase the likeliness that they won’t speak to you in the future.

Don’t Use Bribery, Or Beg Them To Talk To You

Never bribe or beg someone with Selective Mutism to speak. This will only make them feel so much more worse and it will likely increase their anxiety further.

Don’t Get Frustrated With Them

A person with Selective Mutism is not choosing to not speak, and they would speak if they were able to. Don’t get frustrated with them for not speaking.

Don’t Make Any Jokes Or Sarcasm About Their Silence

I have had people making jokes like these to me before. These might seem like harmless jokes, but trust me they are not funny. They will do more harm than good.

Don’t Give Them Over the Top Attention

People with Selective Mutism often dislike being the centre of attention, as this often makes the feel very anxious. Therefore it is important to not give them over the the top attention. They still want to be noticed and not invisible and it’s important to acknowledge the person with SM. But acknowledging someone and being the centre of attention is not the same thing.

Don’t Bring Attention To the Fact That They Are Quiet

People with Selective Mutism are very aware that they are not speaking, and they do not need to be reminded of this all the time. Mentioning the fact that they aren’t speaking will only make them feel more anxious around you.

Don’t Make A Big Deal Out Of It When They Do Speak

People with Selective Mutism often fear the reaction that they will get from other people when they do speak. It is very important to act like it is completely normal to hear them speak, and not make a big deal out of it. A big overreaction can prevent them from speaking in the future. I remember one time when I talked and someone made a big deal out of it. That person probably didn’t know that I had selective mutism and only meant it as a joke, but it only made me feel more uncomfortable and anxious around this person.

It can be very exciting to hear someone’s voice for the first time. But it is better to remain calm and act normal, so that they will feel like it is a safe place to talk.

Don’t Ask Open-Ended Questions 

Don’t ask them open-ended questions when they are not ready for them. At the start you should preferably ask them forced-choice questions, and then work your way to open-ended questions when they feel a little more comfortable.

When you do ask open-ended questions, remember to wait 5 seconds for a response, because these are the types of questions that requires them to think of an answer.

Don’t Ignore Them

Don’t ignore them when they are not speaking. Make sure to find a way to include them even if they are not speaking.

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