What is Selective Mutism?
Selective mutism occurs when children who are capable of speaking fail to speak in certain situations, or around others due to anxiety, usually social anxiety, for a period of one month or more. Children who remain silent may be mistaken for having autism, but Selective Mutism is an anxiety disorder, which is different from autism spectrum disorders.
Children with Selective Mutism will often speak in situations or with people who are familiar to them, falling silent in situations or with people they know less well.
For example, they may speak at home with parents, but fail to speak at school or at home around grandparents. They may even participate non-verbally in activities such as school plays, as it is the act of speaking that they avoid.
The fear of speaking is related to anxiety: fear of judgment, fear of saying the wrong thing, not knowing what to say, freezing, or one’s mind going blank.
Should I seek help if I suspect my child has Selective Mutism?
Some parents hope that their child will just “grow out of it’ but this is not always the case. Additionally, even if the speaking does return, the underlying social anxiety may remain untreated, which can lead to problems down the road.
Selective Mutism can lead to social problems such as teasing or isolation. It can lead to academic problems such as poor grades due to fear of asking for help or letting the teacher know when they don’t understand something. It can also lead to problems such as enuresis (urinating in clothing) if they cannot find a bathroom and feel too scared to ask.
Therapy can help your child overcome selective mutism and the often underlying social anxiety, so that they can regain participation in social, academic, or athletic activities as soon as possible.
The longer the problem goes untreated, the more things your child will miss out on, and the harder it may be to break the habit.
How can therapy help my child overcome Selective Mutism?
Therapy can help your child learn to overcome their fear of speaking, enabling them to more fully participate in activities that will encourage their overall growth and development.
Overcoming selective mutism can teach your child to overcome debilitating shyness and fear of social rejection, to build confidence, and mastery in social situations.