Is selective mutism a real thing?

Oct 16, 18 Is selective mutism a real thing?

Is selective mutism a real thing

As a matter of fact, it is a real thing. Selective mutism, also called elective mutism, is a childhood condition typically seen in children between 4 and 7 years old. You can recognize elective mutism based on the child’s refusal to speak in social settings although they have the ability to speak in more comfortable and familiar settings (like at home with family). n particular, it usually happens in school settings when playing with other children.

My child just stopped speaking in school. What causes elective mutism

That’s a great question. The condition is rare, and not related to what you might think. In fact, the text book definition (and by text book we mean the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) rules out

  1. An organic inability rooted in language ability (comprehension and comfort speaking the language)
  2. Another communication disorder, such as stuttering
  3. Concurrent diagnosis of pervasive development disorder, schizophrenia, or other psychotic disorder (citation)

This condition has nothing to do with autism, developmental disability, or being nonverbal. It is a reaction to anxiety (citation).

Is there a cure or treatment

Don’t think of selective mutism in terms of cure or something your child will simply grow out of. It’s important to realize that although it may be prevalent among very young children it’s maily related to severe bouts of anxiety related to environmental and social changes that should be addressed. A 2016 article found that a short 9 week family therapy treatment was very effective to decrease withdrawal and symptoms of anxiety. So, some counseling would help your child learn to cope with anxiety enabling them to speak freely in all environments.



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External Resources

Support program: Autism Sibling Support Initiative

Support program: Sibling Support Project

Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council

Maryland Early Intervention and Special Education Services

Administration for Community Living

Pathfinders for Autism

Disability Scoop

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

National Center for PTSD

The Blue Ribbon Project: supporting victims of child abuse and youth in foster care

Faces of PTSD




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