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Diagnosis - Selective mutism

Most children are able to overcome selective mutism with treatment.

Look for professional help as early as you can. Treatment is usually easier and more effective when started early. In some situations, there is a waiting list for the services your child needs.

Talk to your child’s teacher

If you think your child has selective mutism, talk to their teacher or preschool staff about what they have noticed. Ask them who your child talks to and when. For example, do they talk to their friends and not their teacher? Do they talk in the yard but not in the classroom?

How to get help

Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if:

  • your child has not spoken outside your family for 4 weeks or more
  • your child has not spoken in a new setting such as preschool or school for 8 weeks (allowing 4 weeks for settling in)
  • you think your child has selective mutism

Your GP may refer your child to a specialist service such as:

  • speech and language therapy
  • psychology

If your child goes to school, the school may refer them to an educational psychologist for support.

Your child’s assessment

The speech and language therapist (SLT) or psychologist may want to meet you first, without your child. This is so you can speak freely about your child.

They may ask about your child's:

  • medical history
  • routines - or changes to your family life
  • first language and the languages you use at home
  • ways of communicating inside and outside the home - such as pointing or nodding
  • personality traits - for example, they may be sensitive, shy, a perfectionist

They may also ask you about anxiety or depression in your family.

The SLT or psychologist may ask you to bring a recording of your child talking in a comfortable environment.

When the SLT or psychologist meets your child

Your child may not be able to speak during their assessment. The SLT or psychologist may find ways around this.

They might ask your child to:

  • communicate through you
  • use gestures such as nodding or pointing
  • write down their answers, if they can
  • use a device, such as your mobile phone, to write a text
  • draw a picture
  • play a game that does not involve talking

They may observe your child playing or listen to a recording of them talking, if you have one. They will only do this if your child is comfortable with it.

As part of your child’s assessment, the SLT or psychologist may note:

  • situations where they do not speak
  • situations where they speak normally
  • how long they have not been able to speak
  • whether their anxiety affects them doing tasks - for example, activities in school
  • whether their anxiety may be linked to another disorder

The SLT or psychologist may diagnose selective mutism based on the assessment.

They may refer your child to your local child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). This is because selective mutism is an anxiety disorder.

Page last reviewed: 29 January 2024
Next review due: 29 January 2027