Submitted by Jun Reitman

Selective mutism is a complex psychological disorder with an unknown origin... These children have the ability to speak and understand language, develop age appropriate skills, and function normally at home with most family members...Click here to read Part I -What is Selective Mutism.

How to ask an SM child questions?

  1. Do you like the rabbit or the dog? CHOICE question - Easy to answer
  2. Do you like the rabbit? Yes/No questions reinforce nonverbal responses, but it can help the SM child start a conversation.
  3. What is your favorite pet? OPEN ENDED question - Difficult

How to help the SM child answer questions?

Change the difficulty of the question if the child doesn’t answer

  1. An average question’s wait time is 5 second to respond
  2. Turn the questions to the choice question
  3. Turn the questions to YES or NO
  4. Provide assistance: Can you point? Can you whisper to me? Do you have pictures to show? Do you see it in this room?  Can you see it when you turn around? (When he/she turns around and around, he/she will feel relaxed. She may point, whisper or answer.) 
  5. Answer the question for the child and ask him/her to repeat the answer once if possible. She/He may carry on the conversation after repeating your answer a few times or if you would like the child to disagree with your answer, you may provide the incorrect answer.
  6. Answer the question for the child in a funny way to facilitate the conversation. “Are you good at swimming?” “Yes, she is a wonderful swimmer, and she loves to drink a lot of pool water.” She may say “No, I don’t drink a lot of pool water”.

For example: What is your favorite animal?  

Mom: Do you like the dog or rabbit better?

Mom: Do you like dog?

Mom: Her favorite animal is the mouse.  She may laugh and speak out loud, “No, it’s the rabbit.”

How to reduce anxiety and lead to a conversation?

  1. Role play
  2. Toy: Cashier register, guess who, Wiz Kidz, Story Cubes
  3. Play dates, Parties, Birthdays:
  4. Animals related: Read to parent in the library, horseback riding, 4 H fair, animal rescue shelter
  5. Sports and sports teams: swimming, ice skating, horseback riding, karate (Normally, an SM child’s anxiety will increase if attending a sport that requires communication,such as basketball.)
  6. Electronic devices: Walkie talkies, iPad videos and games

How to deal with a difficult situation in school?

  1. Help an SM child learn skills for special situations and practice at home. Role play the situation with your child. Also, if a verbal response is not possible, he/she can present the magic tricks in the talent show, show and tell and “Me Time”. This way the child can accomplish the work without talking and lower the anxiety of being in front of a group. 
  2. Tape the child’s voice in videos at home and only present the active parts in school.

How do praise and prizes work together?

  1. Understand your child’s ability: Can the child do it if pushed? It is very important to separate if the child is not capable or capable, but does not try. You can bend the child, but do not break the child.
  2. The combination of praise and prizes work with some children, but not all.  Try setting up a brave talking plan, check progress and adjust the plan/goal.

Discuss with the SM child and setup a chart. Revise the items on the chart frequently.

I am afraid of

When do you think it will happen

Don’t be afraid because

What you can do

Practice and Practice! The scare scale will changed


I don’t know how to answer the questions

School is the place to learn

Answer if you know, or say “I don’t know, can you please tell me?”

Very scary to scary

Birthday Party





Rank of feeling:

  1. Not scary at all
  2. It is ok
  3. A little scary
  4. Pretty scary
  5. No way

How to reduce the anxiety in school?

Draw the school classroom setting chart and mark the room to a scary chart: Very scary, scary and not scary/little scary with different colors. Then start to visit the not scary room with mom and friend.  Have game play to stimulate and prompt conversation. Change the room color one by one to green once the child is not scared anymore.

Green: Not scary or a little scary room

Yellow: scary room


Red: Very scary room


  1. Gym


  1. Library
  2. OT room
  3. Hallway
  4. Lobby



  1. Teacher’s lunch room
  2. Homeroom
  3. Music
  4. Math enhancement room
  5. Nurse’s room
  6. Bathroom
  7. Main office
  8. Teacher’s office
  9. Spanish room
  10. Principle’s Office