What is Selective Mutism?

Selective mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a child’s inability to speak in certain social settings. This is a pretty rare disorder, one that is affecting less than 1% of children, so it tends to be hard to spot at first. It usually begins around age five, but may not be noticed until a child begins its schooling.

Most children with selective mutism also have some sort of underlying anxiety disorder which causes the mutism. Children who suffer from selective mutism are able to speak in environments that are comfortable to them; it is often in new or different situations where they feel anxious that the child elects not to speak because of a concrete fear of speaking.

What are the Symptoms of Selective Mutism?

You’ll notice a consistent failure to speak in social enviornments where speaking is normally an expectation, mutism that persists beyond one month (i.e., it’s not just a phase), and a failure to speak that is not relate to lack of knowledge or language.

What Causes Selective Mutism?

More often than not, there is a genetic component to selective mutism meaning the child has a genetically acquired tendency for anxiety from one or both parents. Selective mutism may also be related to an underlying self-esteem issue or even a speech, language, or hearing difficulty.

How is Selective Mutism Diagnosed?

A multidisciplinary team consisting of a speech-language pathologist, a pediatrician, a psychiatrist and/or a psychologist will serve as the diagnosing team for selective mutism.  During the diagnosis process, this team will look at areas such as educational history, speech and language abilities, oral-motor function and hearing function. Most children are diagnosed between 3-8 years of age

How is Selective Mutism Treated?

Selective mutism is treated by speech-language pathologists! The type of treatment may vary depending on the individual child but the overall goal of therapy is to decrease anxiety surrounding speaking and to encourage the child to communicate

Looking for resources?

Try the Selective Mutism Foundation, Selective Mutism and Childhood Anxiety Disorders Group, or the Selective Mutism Anxiety Research and Treatment Center (Smart Center).

If you think your child may have selective mutism, please give us a call to set up an evaluation!

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