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.

 

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

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
      • 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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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