Selective Mutism

  • Do you feel confused because your child is animated and outspoken at home, but stops talking in other settings, such as school?

  • Do you wonder why your child can communicate normally with some children and adults, but then freezes around others?

  • Do you feel frustrated that others are not able to see your child’s true self--the child you see every day?

  • Do you feel sad watching your child shut down in fear—knowing that he or she is suffering?

  • Do you worry that your child’s social and academic development is suffering due to her lack of communication?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, your child may be suffering from selective mutism.  Read on for more information.

 

What is selective mutism...and what is it not? 

There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about the meaning of selective mutism.

And this holds true both within the general public and within the helping profession itself.  

Many have never heard of selective mutism, as it receives relatively little publicity in comparison to other childhood issues.  

Others have a vague idea of what it is, but would be hard-pressed to explain it.

And still others have bought into some false and common myths about selective mutism, reflected by some common remarks such as:

"That child must have experienced a severe trauma."  

"She's not talking on purpose--so manipulative--she talks when she wants to."  

"Something strange or bad must be happening in that kid's home."  

The truth, however, is that selective mutism is surprisingly easy to define...and rarely has anything to do with trauma, manipulation, or bad parenting.

Another common misunderstanding is that selective mutism is only about a child's speech or the lack thereof.  A more accurate description is that selective mutism impacts all social communication, verbal and non-verbal. This explains why many children with selective mutism also have difficulty  with such things as waving, smiling, nodding, and other forms of social communication and expression.

 

Selective mutism in a nutshell…

Simply stated, a child with selective mutism is one who is able to communicate normally in some settings, while in other settings becomes mute or non-communicative.  

Most commonly, children with selective mutism communicate normally at home, but struggle with communication outside of the home, especially in school.

It can also be more subtle--with the child's communication anxiety being more person specific than environment specific.  For example, the child may be able to talk to and communicate with certain peers or teachers at school, but not others.  

 

As a parent, you might be wondering...

"Why does my child act this way...so normal at home...but so different at school?  Or so normal with that child, but frozen around another? 

The short answer is because of anxiety.  

The selectively mute child's ability to communicate is closely tied to his or her level of social comfort.  

So, when your child does not feel socially comfortable (i.e., anxious), his or her ability to communicate is severely compromised.  

A selectively mute child's comfort level can fluctuate dramatically, depending on the person, place, or activity at hand.  

And this fact alone can generate much confusion.  

For instance, your child may communicate  normally with her friend when she comes over to your home to play...but may not be able to utter a single word to that same friend at school.  

Or your child might be talking to two friends, and then suddenly stop talking when a third child joins in.  

Or your child might be enjoying a family outing, talking and laughing, but then suddenly shut down after spotting a school acquaintance across the way.

Your child does not have to continue on this path...  

Research has shown that the earlier a child can be treated, the more effective the treatment can be.  As with any habit or pattern, the earlier it is addressed, the easier and quicker it is to change it.

 

It's not about the content

Above, I have provided information about what is known as Selective Mutism.  But, the type of anxiety that your child experiences is not what we will focus on in treatment

That's because anxiety operates the same way regardless of its diagnostic category.  These categories merely describe the type of things a particular person tends to worry about.    

And focusing on the content of your child's worry is not helpful.

What is helpful is to focus on how worry itself works and to teach your child a new way to respond to it. Your family and child will learn all about this concept in treatment.

Does that mean that we're not going to work with your child around his or her communication challenges?  Of course not!  But, we will do it in a way that can be generalized to any other worries that your child may have now or down the road. 

The great news is that once children understand how worry works, they will be equipped to manage worry, as its content shifts and changes as they grow.    

 

 Helping Anxious Kids is here to support your family.  If you are seeking anxiety treatment for your child and my approach resonates with you, schedule an appointment today.  

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