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Why are the twins silent?

Twins often share a special bond that results in unique behaviors not seen in other siblings. While most twins interact and communicate freely, in some cases twins become selectively mute and refrain from speaking under certain circumstances. There are a few potential reasons why twins may demonstrate this unusual silent treatment.

Trauma or Abuse

In some unfortunate cases, twins may have experienced trauma or abuse, either individually or together. This could stem from bullying at school, an unstable home environment, or other distressing events that have led them to stop speaking. By remaining silent, the twins may feel they are protecting themselves or each other from further harm. Their silence serves as a coping mechanism for an underlying issue.

Shared Psychiatric Disorders

There is research showing that twins may share certain psychiatric disorders at higher rates than non-twins. Selective mutism is one example – this is an anxiety disorder where a child consistently refuses to speak in certain situations, such as school. Twins may develop selective mutism together if they have similar genetic predispositions for anxiety. Their silence is a symptom of their shared disorder.

Secret Communications

Some twins develop “cryptophasia” – a secret language only the two of them understand. This usually happens in early childhood when their language skills are developing. Cryptophasia may involve speech, gestures, facial expressions, or made-up words. As twins grow older, they may still retain aspects of their private language. To outsiders, it may seem like the twins are silent. But in reality, they are still communicating in their own way.

Exclusion from Others

The intense bonding between twins may also lead them to exclude others, including siblings, parents, and peers. This purposeful silence when around certain people serves to maintain the exclusivity of their relationship. By shutting out others verbally, the twins reinforce their status as a special unit.


In some cases, there may not be a deeper underlying cause for the twins’ silence – they may simply both be very shy children. Their shared genetic personality traits result in social anxiety and reluctance to speak, especially around unfamiliar people. However, the twins likely communicate freely with each other and feel most comfortable in their joint company.

Examples of Selectively Mute Twins

Here are a few real-world examples of twins who demonstrate selective mutism:

  • Twin sisters Isabelle and Madeline Neumann from Illinois did not speak at school until age 5. They communicated with grunts, gestures, and their own private language at home.
  • Twins James and Michael O’Reilly from Ireland did not speak for 5 years until therapists diagnosed them with selective mutism and anxiety disorders.
  • A parent reported her 4-year-old twin boys had their own secret vocabulary and would not speak in front of anyone else, including family members.

Evaluating Selective Mutism in Twins

If twins are exhibiting selective mutism or an unusual reluctance to speak, it is important for parents to have them evaluated by a pediatrician, psychiatrist, or speech pathologist. They can determine if there are any underlying developmental, neurological or psychological causes requiring treatment. Early intervention is ideal.

Questions to Consider

Professionals evaluating selectively mute twins will consider questions such as:

  • When did the mutism begin and in what situations?
  • How do the twins communicate with each other?
  • Do the twins have trouble communicating with certain people or in certain places?
  • Have there been any stressful events, trauma, or abuse?
  • Are there other behavioral concerns like anxiety or obsessive tendencies?
  • Are developmental milestones otherwise normal?
  • Do the twins have trouble connecting to peers?
  • Are there any speech, language, or hearing deficits?

Diagnostic Assessments

The following assessments may be used to get to the root cause of twin mutism:

  • Clinical interviews: With parents, teachers, and the twins if possible, to gain insights on behaviors.
  • Speech/language evaluation: Assesses communication abilities.
  • Hearing test: Screens for auditory deficits.
  • Developmental screening: Looks at milestones in all areas.
  • Psychological testing: Measures intelligence, emotions, behavior etc.

Encouraging Communication

Once any underlying issues are identified, professionals work with families to develop plans for encouraging communication. Common strategies include:

  • Family therapy: Addresses family dynamics that may impact mutism.
  • Individual psychotherapy: Works through trauma, anxiety, emotions.
  • Speech/language therapy: Builds communication abilities.
  • Social skills training: Improves engagement with peers.
  • Accommodations at school: Reduces pressures to speak.
  • Alternative communication: Tools like picture cards or devices.
  • Medication: Prescribed if warranted for underlying conditions.


With professional support, selectively mute twins can often learn to communicate effectively, especially when treatment begins early. However, outcomes depend on the reasons for mutism and twins’ responsiveness to interventions. Their prognoses are best when mutism stems from social anxiety versus a history of severe trauma or developmental disability.

In some cases, progress may be gradual – twins may begin by speaking only to parents, then other family, then peers. With patience and consistency from loved ones, even the most silent twins can find their voices.


There are many potential explanations for why some twins may be selectively mute or silent in certain contexts. While the causes vary, identifying and addressing them compassionately is key to encouraging verbal communication. With time, insight, and care, even the quietest twins can learn to speak up and share their thoughts with the world around them.