That new schooler you’ve pegged as being “just shy” because he or she does not talk, or seems very uncomfortable when focused upon, may actually have a social phobia called “selective mutism”. As the child’s teacher, you are in the critical position of making an objective assessment. Many parents may not see the performance/social anxiety driven behavior at home, so will be confused by your assessment. In fact, many parents will believe it’s just a school problem, since the child is “normal” at home. Selective mutism can be considered an “addiction to the avoidance of speaking” or a speaking phobia. The child can speak, but does not do so in specific venues or to specific people. It is not a speech disorder. It is an anxiety disorder. A typical scenario in elementary school is that other children start talking on behalf of the selectively mute student. By junior high school, the selectively mute student is identified by peers as being weird; social isolation and a myriad of problems are present at this stage of development. The biggest mistake is to believe that the selectively mute child is simply “shy” and will grow out of the problem! The reality is that in most cases, the anxiety worsens over time as it insidiously works its way into the personality - creating avoidant and dependent characteristics. Here are three action points for teachers: 1. Notify the school counselor and parents as early as possible about your perceptions. Selectively mute children never have the “initiative” to overcome selective mutism independently. The earlier attention is given, the more the chance for success. 2. Follow up with parents. Encourage them to EDUCATE themselves about the condition - there are self help programs, books, and treatment available. 3. Do not write off the problem, assuming the child will grow out of it. This will not happen! Selective mutism is an extreme social phobia, although it occurs in different degrees. Your intervention now may save the child years of social maladjustment and suffering.