Selective mutism is a severe anxiety disorder in which a person is unable to communicate in certain situations, but is able to speak in others. This disorder most frequently develops during childhood and is often noted when children are unable to speak in school.
If your child is struggling to speak in social situations or around certain people, they may be suffering from selective mutism. Unlike other communication disorders that affect the ability to speak, selective mutism is mainly psychological, and often rooted in severe anxiety.
A child with selective mutism may talk freely at home while struggling with expressing themselves in other environments, like at school. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to support and advocate for a child with selective mutism.
Causes of Selective Mutism
Children with selective mutism might become suddenly still, with a frozen facial expression, while potentially avoiding eye contact or appearing nervous and uneasy.
There is no single cause of selective mutism. However, there are certain characteristics that are common in children with the disorder. “It is related to social anxiety, shyness and an inhibited temperament, in which the individual avoids situations where they have to speak.
Treatment for Selective Mutism
Each child’s treatment plan will look different and may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, speech-language therapy, or family therapy. Behavioral therapy focuses on helping children learn to speak in new settings, with new people, and during new activities.
Behavioral therapy is the most effective method for treating selective mutism. It typically consists of confronting the fear of speaking in progressively more challenging situations until the child is able to better tolerate these situations.
Medication and speech therapy are other forms of treatment that may be used, and are determined on a case-by-case basis. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, speech therapy aims to change your child’s behavior during those particular times it is difficult to communicate. This may include:
- Stimulus Fading