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Selective Mutism

What is Selective Mutism?

Selective Mutism is considered to be a rare childhood anxiety disorder where a child is unable to speak under certain situations or to certain people. Often, such inability is misinterpreted as the child being shy or timid however, it is not something the child can control. In addition, such condition is typically diagnosed between children ages 3 and 6. Moreover, it is believed that about 1% of the population is affected with Selective Mutism and that girls are twice as likely to develop such disorder compared to boys.

What are the symptoms of Selective Mutism?

The symptoms of Selective Mutism vary from child to child and in intensity. However, the following symptoms tend to be present in such disorder:

  • The child may only speak in certain situations and then stop talking when others appear in such situations
  • A child fails to speak in situations in which they are expected to (i.e. at school), but speak fairly well in others (i.e. with parents)
  • Such inability is impairing the individuals’ ability to live their daily life functioning such as educational or occupational achievement
  • The duration of such actions has been a disturbance for at least 1 month, not counting the individuals first month in school
  • The child’s failure to speak has nothing to do with the lack of knowledge or comfort level for example
  • A child may appear to look frozen or paralyzed when approached by strangers for example
  • A child may make use of pointing, nodding, or facial expressions to meet their needs
  • Such behavior is not caused by other disorders such as Communication Disorder

What causes Selective Mutism?

Although the exact known cause is not known, experts believe that genetics may strongly influence the development of such disorder. In other words, if an individual has a sibling or parent who has been diagnosed with Selective Mutism, the child is at a higher chance of developing the disorder. In addition, if a child has other disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, or Developmental Delays, they are also at higher risks of developing the disorder.

It is also important to note that individuals whose second language is English, are also at a higher risk of developing the disorder.

How is Selective Mutism treated?

  • Behavior Therapy
    • The child learns new skills to control their anxiety and “unlearn” their dependence of mute behavior
    • The child is exposed to increasingly difficult speaking tasks for example
  • Family Therapy
  • Medication
    • May include antidepressants

How can I deal with Selective Mutism?

  • Make sure that you or your loved one do in fact have Selective Mutism
  • Analyze the extent to which such disorder is affecting your daily life functioning
  • Educate yourself and loved ones on the subject
  • Challenge yourself (i.e. raise your hand in class, nod & shake your head when needed)
    • Speak little by little
    • Audio record yourself so that you can develop comfort with your own voice
  • Focus on thinking positive
  • Seek professional help (i.e. a therapist or begin with your primary caregiver)
    • Ensure to attend all assigned therapies and/or take medications as prescribed