Real and perceived speech delays are not uncommon in babies and toddlers. In fact as many of 10% of all children suffer from a voice, speech or swallowing disorder that they may later overcome. Addressing the needs of a child with speech delays early on, while challenging, is still less traumatic than facing a child who is already well on their way to full speech and suddenly stops talking.
Surprisingly, this scenario is far more common than you may imagine. We frequently get questions from parents who are startled when their little ones suddenly stop speaking both at home and in social settings.
Once the pediatrician and audiologist have excluded auditory issues, as well as other potential scenarios like autism spectrum, it may be wise to explore the possibility of selective mutism. Selective mutism is a complex and difficult-to-diagnose condition where the toddler or child only speaks in certain settings. The condition is often tied to anxiety and social phobia and appears to have a genetic element. Selective mutism may take place only at school or in social settings, and in some instances, it is associated to fear, triggered by a person within the household. To be clear, selective mutism is not the same as traumatic mutism.
If your toddler has been diagnosed with selective mutism, there are many options you can explore to help your toddler embrace speech once again. Early intervention is key.
In addition to appropriate diagnostics, your toddler may benefit from the following:
- Reduced environmental stress
- Increased engagement in zones of comfort
- Play therapy
- Alternative communication such as pointing boards or baby sign language
- Frequent socialization
- Cognitive therapy
If you have just received a diagnosis of selective mutism, we encourage you to become familiar with our baby sign language materials specifically designed for toddlers. Through music, clear real-life images, and simple directions, our resources can quickly provide a toddler facing SM an emotionally accessible tool to communicate what matters most to him.