What to Do When Your Already Verbal Toddler Stops Talking – Dealing with Selective Mutism

Real and received 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, 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 will ever 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, and other potential scenarios like autism spectrum have been excluded, 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 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
  • Medication

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.

 

47 Responses to “What to Do When Your Already Verbal Toddler Stops Talking – Dealing with Selective Mutism”

  1. Nadia

    Hi! My 2.5 year old son doesn’t talk to me anymore. He used to say the words brother, sister, mama, papa, but now he is not talking anymore to anyone. What to do?

    Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Hi Nadia, Thanks for stopping by. As we advised the other parents here, please feel free to use BSL with your son while also consulting his pediatrician and audiologist about his speaking hesitation. Best of luck!

      Reply
  2. lilly

    Hi, My baby talked at a very early age of 5 mos., then when he was 13 mos. old, he just stopped! He is now 16 mos., and I am very stressed and worried. I have tried to get an appointment with his doctor, but due to COVID, he will not see him. Please help, I don’t know what to do!

    Haven’t slept properly in weeks, feel so stressed.

    Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Hi Lily,

      Sorry to hear about the stress of it all. As we advised the other parents here, please feel free to use BSL with your son while also consulting his pediatrician and audiologist about his speaking hesitation. If your doctor refuses to have a visit in person, try to negotiate a virtual consultation: Face Time, Viber, Zoom, or Skype should do the trick. Of course, it’s best if your son is with you on cam. Best of luck!

      Reply
  3. Navilda

    My son is 2 1/2 years old. He was very talkative before, but after a recent comeback from a trip, he has suddenly stopped talking; he doesn’t even ask for water. He used to watch a lot of TV back in the US, though now we have completely stopped that. Is this a reason for worry?

    Reply
    • Navlida

      He also used to say if he wanted to drink water, but know he just grabs my hand and lets me follow him to the refrigerator, and then I gave him water. Now he just doesn’t talk but screams if he is happy or tries to talk, but till now he can’t talk.

      Reply
    • Lynne Pharis

      I am 72 and I had been told that I had been talking as a baby but then for a year stopped talking and just pointed to what I wanted (assume this is age 1ish to 2ish). My mother said when I started talking again I called my father Dick, his name, instead off Daddy or whatever I had used before. It sounds like what you are describing as selective mutism. That 1st year of my life we moved from Miami where I was born, to Staten Island, to Baltimore, to Hopkinsville for a few weeks, and then to Seattle where we lived 5 years. (My father was in the service). Would the moving have triggered it? I don’t remember being traumatized, and I have recall of events as a baby (getting a bath in the kitchen sink and looking out the kitchen window laughing).

      Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Hi Navilda, It sounds like the trip to (or back from) the US impacted your son somehow. As we’ve advised other parents here, it’s probably best to consult your pediatrician, as your son’s quiet turn involves losing interest in drinking water. You need to have this addressed right away as it may involve your toddler’s physical, not just emotional, well-being.

      Reply
  4. Altina

    Hi. My toddler is 33 months old. In the last 2 weeks, he’s been more quiet and does not respond when I call him. He responds only when it’s something that interests him, for example: “Do you want to run with Mum?” He says, “Yeah,” with joy. But if I say, “Do you want to eat?” he does not respond, and he wasn’t like this before. He was so happy and wanted to talk to me all the time. Now it’s not the case. I also have a 4-month-old baby, and these last 4 months, we placed him in front of the TV a lot, and now that I’ve stopped him from watching TV, I do not now how to win his interest again.

    Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Hi Altina, It sounds like you have two problems here. For your 2-year old, it’s probably best to consult your pediatrician, as your son’s quiet turn involves losing interest in eating, not just certain activities. You need to have this addressed right away as it may involve your toddler’s physical as well as psycho-emotional well-being. As for your 4-month old, it’s not too late to get him interested in toys that require a lot of manipulation, or that are very colorful or make music or other sounds. It is also best to keep him away from TV and games on gadgets — as such devices provide over-stimulation of the senses and not enough physical activity. When it comes to your children’s development, the “old school” way is still best: get them active with exercise, educational toys, and play time with Mum and Dad. Of course, if you can make the time to read stories to your boys, that’s an excellent bonding activity, too.

      Reply
  5. Carolina

    Hello,
    My daughter (14 months) has learned to say a little over ten words.(mom,dad,outside,please etc) a lot of which are surprising. For the last two days she has not said anyone of them. When I ask if she can repeat after me all she says is “bababababab”. Nothing else.

    Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Hi Carolina, I wouldn’t worry if it’s just a two-day hiatus from speaking. Keep observing your daughter in the following days/weeks. Use our BSL and try to make teaching your daughter the signs fun along with enunciating the old words she already knows, along with new words. Keep using BSL but also see your daughter’s pediatrician about this issue if it persists. The doctor may then recommend an audiologist for your daughter. Best of luck.

      Reply
      • Udo

        My daughter’s case is similar with Allison’s daughters case. She’s 2 and half and she just stopped talking all of a sudden.

        Reply
  6. Allison

    My daughter is 2 1/2 and was speaking just fine to our family, neighbors and all of her friends and teachers at daycare. It’s like a switch flipped about 2-3 weeks ago for no apparent reason, and will only talk to our immediate family. She will no longer speak to our friends, neighbors, teachers, etc. and just looks away/pouts any time someone tries to talk to her. Is this normal? Is it just a toddler phase? Do we need to reach out to her doctor regarding this issue?

    Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Sorry to hear that, Allison. Please schedule a checkup with your daughter’s pediatrician, who can recommend an audiologist for her. Also, talk to your daughter’s daycare specialist. While things appear okay on the surface, there may be details and interactions you aren’t privy to. Your daughter may have witnessed or experienced something at daycare, which has led to this reticence outside the family circle.

      Reply
  7. Faith

    My 3 year old son started talking and could count numbers but he just stopped talking and point at things he wants

    Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Hi Faith, Thanks for stopping by. As we advised the other parents here, please feel free to use BSL with your son while also consulting his pediatrician and audiologist about his speaking hesitation. Best of luck!

      Reply
  8. Lilian

    Hi. My daughter was saying a few words, then recently she stopped; she is not learning or saying the words she knew before. She is 2 years old now.

    Reply
    • James

      My son was talking and counting numbers, but he suddenly stopped. He is now 3 years old. Help me please with what I can do about it?

      Reply
      • Baby Sign Language Administrator

        Hi James, Sorry to hear that. As we advised the other parents here, please feel free to use BSL with your son while also consulting his pediatrician and audiologist about his sudden speaking hesitation. You will likely be asked about any changes in your son’s environment, daily routine, and/or regular people he interacts with that may have contributed somehow to this situation. Best of luck.

        Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Hi Lilian, Sorry to hear that. Try our baby sign language with her. At the same time, you may want to consult with your daughter’s pediatrician about this, who may then recommend a good audiologist.

      Reply
  9. Christy

    Hi,
    My son had been saying words like “thank you, you’re welcome, daddy, ” and even sibling names and a few other things from before 1 year old. At 23 mths old he travelled with my husband and his siblings to join me in the UK. It was a very traumatic flight as their flight was cancelled for 2 days consecutively and his routine (eating, sleep) was thrown off balance. He’s just been humming since he arrived, won’t answer his name alot, says gibberish and whispers occasionally. He’s very good with phones and tablets and plays with his siblings but gets upset easily. It’s been 2 months now…..

    Reply
  10. Hamad

    My daughter at 8 months knew few words like “papa, mama, brother, nana.” But when she went to Norway for 4 months and I visited her there, she only says mama now and stopped responding to her name. She is very attached to me but doesn’t say papa anymore which was her first word. Any advice?

    Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Hi Hamad,

      Children need constant exposure to the sounds of words that they learn, as well as the people and objects these words represent. So if she hadn’t seen you for 4 months straight, it’s little surprise that she stopped saying “papa” and other words. If you are still apart from her now, you can initiate video calls through her mother, so she can continue to see and hear you as she grows older. Through the call, you can have her repeat “papa” to you. Also, keep saying her name so that she relates to both the sound of her name and the association to you.

      Reply
  11. Linden

    My grandson started saying Dada and Mama when he was about 9 months. He stopped soon after that. I’m convinced his mother’s neglect and abuse had something to do with it. She was caught choking him by my son and he now has full custody. I just don’t know how to help him. He’s three now and he’s so smart. He just doesn’t speak. I don’t know how to help him.

    Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Linden, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandson’s trauma. Clearly, aside from the love and protection given to him by your son and you, he needs professional help. Please have your son schedule checkups with your grandson’s pediatrician and audiologist, if this isn’t being done already.

      Reply
  12. Onayimi

    Thank you so much for putting this up here.

    I have been so worried about my 27-month-old son. He started saying a few words at about 20 months and all of a sudden, he wouldn’t say those words anymore. When he speaks, he whispers. He is not learning new words and not using the ones that he already knows. I know he started talking late, but I wasn’t concerned because his siblings started speaking around the same age, and picked up very quickly.

    Nothing has changed in his routine. He was born in Canada and started pre-school at 17 months. He seems happy at his daycare and plays with other kids. He has 2 older siblings and plays with them at home, but instead of speaking when he needs things, he points and cries.

    Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Sorry to hear that, Onayimi. Please schedule a checkup with your son’s pediatrician, who can recommend an audiologist for your son. Also, talk to your son’s daycare specialist. While things appear okay on the surface, there may be details and interactions you aren’t privy to. Your son may be mirroring the pointing and crying of other kids in his daycare, particularly if he has developed an attachment to said kids.

      Reply
  13. Ijeoma

    My son started going to school back in Nigeria at 1 year and 2 months then started saying some few words. But we relocated to the United States and stopped talking. Says cartoon only occasionally. He’s 2 years and 1 month now.

    Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Hello,

      I’m sorry to hear that. From your description, it sounds like the relocation was the major stressor that induced selective mutism in your son. Please do try baby sign language with him. At the same time, please consult his pediatrician and audiologist, if you haven’t already done so. Best of luck.

      Reply
  14. M

    Hi,

    My daughter just turned 1 last week. She would speak a few words starting at 9 months of age. But she has suddenly stopped speaking; she speaks the words she knows already sometimes, but she is quiet most of the time and just points at things or talks to us with “ugghh”, and only speaks words she knows rarely. Not learning new words, either. Is it a sign to worry about?

    Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Hi M, If your daughter is still uttering a few words (though rarely, as you had said), just keep encouraging her some more. Keep uttering the most common words in her daily routine, as well as teaching her baby sign language. If she stops talking altogether, it may be best for you to seek the advice of her pediatrician and audiologist.

      Reply
  15. Valerie Hundley

    Hi my grandson is 20 months old. He was saying Daddy and Mama, but stopped talking. Now he points and says ‘uhuh’.

    Reply
    • Manou

      My son is 2. He started talking at around 17 months. He used to have conversations with me and his siblings, but now he is 27 months and
      has stopped talking. I’m very worried. Any advice, please?

      Reply
      • Sufia

        Hi, my son is 15 months old. He used to say mamma, pappa, baby shark, dog, coco, and few more words and use to show eyes, nose, mouth, ears, but suddenly he stopped saying all these words and stop showing “Where are your eyes,” whenever asked…
        I am too worried about him. I don’t know what happened that he stop talking. Kindly help me. Is it a sign to worry about.

        Reply
        • Baby Sign Language Administrator

          Hi Sufia, Thanks for stopping by. As we’ve advised the other parents here, please feel free to use BSL with your son while also consulting his pediatrician and audiologist about his speaking hesitation. Best of luck!

          Reply
      • Baby Sign Language Administrator

        Manou, we’re sorry to hear that. It’s really best for you to see a pediatric specialist or speech pathologist in this case. It is not easy to detect the cause(s) of selective mutism in children, as some of them just snap out of this phase, while other children need a bit more professional help. Keep teaching him baby sign language in the meantime. But do see a specialist. Hope your soon starts speaking again soon.

        Reply
    • Baby Sign Language Administrator

      Hi, I’m sorry to hear that. We encourage you to keep using Baby Sign Language with your grandson while enunciating the words. If you still cannot get to the bottom of his selective mutism, just continue to show him patience and love as you keep signing to him (and consulting his pediatrician and speech specialist at the same time). Hopefully, he’ll come around to both signing and speaking back again. Cheers.

      Reply
  16. D Ginn

    My grandson (18 mo) just speaking mama, dada, tuna (dog), bubba, Bentley, Nanny and then he just stopped. Now he will not say anything..nothing. We were watching Pororo at the end there is a little song and he did sing along lalala (?). That was the first sound that I’ve heard in awhile. I’m getting worried! Pls no name thanks.

    ADMIN – Hello, Have you consulted with your grandson’s pediatrician and/or audiologist? Hopefully, there is nothing wrong with him. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of the toddler’s temporary preference to switch repetition modalities. The fact that he sang along with Pororo is a good sign. Keep teaching him Baby Sign Language in the meantime. If his specialists don’t detect anything wrong, just give your grandson the space to explore speaking with his hands before he resumes talking.

    Reply
  17. Martina MC Cosker

    My 4 year old Granddaughter stopped speaking at home last September, about 4 months ago, she talks at playschool, sometimes for a while when she comes home but usually stops after about an hour in,she hasn’t spoken all over Christmas much to the distress of her parents, it’s a very unusual situation as most select mutism happens outside of the home, where a child may be anxious or nervous, the only trigger we can think of is her sister left playschool and started primary school, so they were separated for those few hours daily, she also has a brother 15 months old, her home life is extremely happy, both parents are loving and caring, my biggest fear is that it could be a sign of Autism, any advice would be welcome.

    ADMIN – Hi Martina,

    This behavior should be escalated to her pediatrician ASAP

    Reply
  18. aeiou

    I have a personal story. I prefer to remain anonymous for the sake of privacy. When I was a child I was developing normally. However, when I was about 2 years old, all of a sudden I stopped talking. Moreover, I showed symptoms as mania for collecting objects, hiding under the curtain, avoiding eye contact, screaming in the night etc… I recall a strong fear of being abandoned. I was diagnosed with full-blown autism and advised to start psychotherapy and musicotherapy. I followed this advice and 6 months later I regained my speech abilities (I re-started singing a song) and I gradually lost the symptoms of autism. The psychiatrists defined this recovery “miraculous” and maintained that my “illness” had been “autism-type regression. I’ve always had serious problems at the kindergarten, but from primary school on I’ve never had troubles in learning and I did not need a support teacher. Now I graduated in Economics and started my first paid internship. There are still some “trraces” of my past condition: in fact, I still have serious problem in interpersonal interactions, sometimes I fail to understand the context I am acting in, I have a strong tendency for anxiety and I struggle in building long-term friendships. However, I do have friends, I can speak normally, I do not avoid hugging, I can be self-deprecating and so on. To conclude, I can have a quasi-ordinary life, which seemed almost impossible at the moment of the diagnosis. There is always hope!

    Reply
  19. Mario

    My niece is 3yrs, she was having full conversations and even started reading. And about a week ago she stop talking all of sudden. Only says is mama & papa, now.

    Help…

    ADMIN – Hi Mario,

    Consult with the pediatrician right away. Early intervention is essential.

    Reply
  20. Vidhya

    My son was saying small words like amma, mama & also he repeats whatever we say… Then he suddenly stopped talking and social interations at the age of 2… He was not listening and not delating the words with the mind… He’ll be alright?… Will he recover soon?… Please give some advise…

    ADMIN – Hi Vidhya,

    Kindly consult with your pediatrician. Without deeper familiarity with your situation we can’t give you clarification or guidance.

    Reply
    • Shobha

      My son is 31 months old; when he was 10 months, he started to say appa (dada), amma,Tata, atte, and the like, but he stopped saying these from 28 months onward. Any advice?

      Reply
      • Baby Sign Language Administrator

        Sorry to hear that, Shobha. As advised to other parents in the same boat, try our baby sign language with your son. At the same time, you may want to consult with your son’s pediatrician about this, who may then recommend a good audiologist.

        Reply
  21. Rebecca

    My grandson was saying small words that mommy,yes ,no ,you ,ball and all of a sudden he just stopped now he won’t speak it off can someone give me some advice.

    ADMIN – Hi Rebecca,

    I would encourage you to reach out to a language professional.

    Reply

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