Being bilingual does not cause Selective Mutism! But, for children who are predisposed to anxiety, being expected to use a language they are less comfortable with can put them at additional risk! For some children, Selective Mutism may present only when being asked to speak in their second or third language. Though for some, the anxiety can generalize, and it may be difficult for children to speak even in their native language.
It is important to note that bilingual children often experience a “silent period” while learning a new language. It is important for clinicians to be able to differentiate this stage of learning from Selective Mutism. Bilingual children also typically develop language slower, which is another important area of learning that needs to be taken into consideration while assessing for Selective Mutism.
Still, treatment for Selective Mutism in children who are bilingual follows a similar path as those who only speak one language. You want to give children enough time to respond, use labeled praise, and rephase questions (with choices, or yes/no). It is important to know the factors that lead into the development and maintenance of your child’s Selective Mutism, so we can target those areas in treatment. Being bilingual is an amazing skill, and practicing communication in different languages is crucial to lessening anxiety and building comfort in using multiple languages.
Kaitlyn Harrison, M.S.
Parents guide to SM. Child Mind Institute. (2021, August 31). Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://childmind.org/guide/parents-guide-how-to-help-a-child-with-selective-mutism/.