Helping Children with Selective Mutism: Expert Insights and Strategies

Written by Vince Borg

Certified Practicing Speech Pathologist
B.Sc, B.Sp.Path, C.P.S.P

For parents of children with selective mutism, understanding and addressing this condition can be a challenging journey.

Selective mutism is a complex condition where children are capable of speaking comfortably in some settings but struggle to use their voice in other social situations, such as at school or with less familiar people.

In this article, we’ll explore key insights and strategies shared in a recent podcast conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Woodcock, the director and clinical psychologist at the Selective Mutism Clinic in Sydney.

Understanding Selective Mutism

Selective mutism often presents in preschool-age children, and research suggests it affects approximately 1 in 140 children in their first three years of primary school.

This prevalence tends to decrease as children get older, with 1 in 555 children aged 7 to 15 years experiencing selective mutism.

It’s important to note that these children often have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, anxious temperaments, and may come from bilingual families, which can exacerbate their difficulties with language and communication.

Is Selective Mutism Treatable?

Selective mutism is considered one of the most complex anxiety disorders, making it quite challenging to treat.

While treatment can be lengthy, taking one to two years, it is effective.

The positive news is that once treated, selective mutism does not tend to relapse.

It’s essential to fully address this condition to prevent social anxiety from persisting alongside it.

Should We See a Speech Pathologist or a Psychologist?

Speech pathologists can effectively treat selective mutism, though the condition is complex, and a holistic approach is often necessary.

Psychologists may be better equipped to address the broader context, such as family dynamics, mental health, and co-occurring conditions.

The timing of involving a speech pathologist can vary, but it’s often more effective to address selective mutism first with a psychologist, gradually incorporating speech therapy as the child’s anxiety decreases.

Treatment Approaches for Selective Mutism

Several treatment approaches have proven effective for children with selective mutism.

One key strategy is “sliding in,” where the child starts speaking in a controlled, comfortable environment and gradually transitions to speaking in more challenging settings.

This method helps children build confidence in their ability to speak and reduces their anxiety.

Another important approach is “graded exposure,” which involves exposing the child to increasingly challenging situations, helping them confront their fears and gradually reduce their anxiety.

These strategies, combined with anxiety management techniques and communication skill development, can lead to effective treatment.

Understanding and addressing selective mutism in children is a complex but manageable journey.

By following evidence-based strategies, being patient, and working together as a team, parents and professionals can make a significant impact in helping these children become effective and functional communicators in various settings.

For more information and resources on selective mutism, you can visit Dr. Elizabeth Woodcock’s website at .



Johnson, M., &; Wintgens, A. (2017). The selective mutism: Resource manual. Routledge.

Potts, K., &; Woodcock, E. Speak Up! Podcast: “Demystifying Selective Mutism”, Season 5 Episode 29.

Woodcock, E. (2021, November 18). Selective Mutism Clinic, Sydney.

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