Selective Mutism is a condition that affects about 1 child out of every 700 children during some stage of their life.
In this article, we will be focusing on what is Selective Mutism in children specifically as it is more commonly experienced by people in that age group, although it can also be experienced in adults.
AnxietyPanda distinctly remembers the first time when she was struck with Selective Mutism.
It was the first day of school. MomPanda took me to TeacherPanda and when TeacherPanda asked me what my name is, I just froze and could not get any words to come out of my mouth! I literally just stood there blushing and couldn’t get myself to talk. It was so weird.
MomPanda was shocked and couldn’t understand what was going. Although I was always known as an extremely shy cub, I was still able to at least say hello etc. But this was because I was always surrounded either by my parents and siblings or other close family members. AnxietyPanda was never put in a situation where she met a stranger for the first time, not to mention a BUNCH of other strange cubs!
I recall a feeling of not understanding what was happening to me either and feeling very embarrassed too. The first two years of school, I was even too shy to ask to go to the bathroom. Needless to say, I had a few accidents in class, cementing my path as “not cool enough” throughout my entire academic career. This type of behavior (minus the accidents, as I eventually learned to control my bladder) stayed with me until young adulthood and AnxietyPanda has now luckily outgrown this.
Believe it or not, when AnxietyPanda was a cub, there was NO INTERNET :O She really wishes there were such resources as the Internet available because perhaps MomPanda could have had enough information to do something about this.
So, AnxietyPanda will now share her knowledge of this condition in the hopes of reaching or helping at least one person that may be suffering from this.
What is Selective Mutism in Children – A Quick Overview
Children with Selective Mutism, or SM, are not just shy they are extremely shy and often find it hard to talk or function under certain situations or to certain people. Each child will show different symptoms. Where some may only be able to speak in a whisper, if at all, others may just freeze up with fear, others may remain expressionless and mute.
A child with SM will most probably also have other mental disorders such as anxiety, shyness, moodiness or having sleep problems. They may also be from a bilingual family or have spent time in a foreign country before the age of 4.
On the other side, a very small percentage of kids who have SM will not be shy at all. They will seek attention in any manner besides speaking and can be quite “busy”.
It is safe to say that Selective Mutism is a mental health condition as there have been no studies yet that prove that this is caused by any external forms of trauma or abuse.
Selective, Traumatic and Progressive Mutism
A child suffering from SM will very rarely be mute in all situations. They are mostly shy and have a tendency towards social anxiety and the mutism is used as an avoidance tactic.
Traumatic mutism is usually developed as a result of a sudden traumatic event in the life of the child, such as the passing away of a close family member. The shock may be too much for the child to handle and process and this leads them to become mute in all situations. This can be overcome with therapy and love.
Sometimes, a child may start off having SM in certain social settings, but due to negative reinforcements or other things causing heightened anxiety levels, the child may become mute in all settings as well. They will not even speak to their parents. This form of mutism is known as Progressive Mutism.
Some personal negative reinforcement experienced by AnxietyPanda was that many adults accused her of being devious and not trustworthy. Because it didn’t make sense that I was able to talk to certain people and not to adults or authority people. Surely, there must be something wrong with me and I had bad intentions. This caused tremendous pain and stress in AnxietyPanda’s life, however she was lucky enough that her selective mutism did not turn into Progressive Mutism.
What are some symptoms to look out for?
If you know your child really well, you will be able to spot the symptoms of Selective Mutism by looking at the following behaviors a child with SM might display:
- They may be extremely shy and timid, especially in unfamiliar settings. Usually withdrawn.
- They almost definitely have social anxiety and hate being the center of attention.
- They really do want friends but lack the social skills and confidence.
- They may be clingy or controlling.
- They may display anxiety symptoms such as nausea, nervousness, headaches etc.
- They tend to lack eye contact and usually have a blank or scared expression – like a deer caught in the headlights. The stiffness lessens with age and/or depending on how comfortable they are in a situation.
- They may show delays in development such as communication or motor skills.
- They may be highly sensitive to noisy sounds or lots of visuals.
- They tend to be withdrawn and play on their own.
- They may hesitate to socially engage and to concentrate in class.
- They often show signs of other anxiety-related symptoms such as Separation Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder etc.
The symptoms listed above are the most commonly displayed, but there are many more. If your child displays a combination of these symptoms for more than a month, best is to consult with a medical professional and get a diagnosis on what the problem may be.
The importance of diagnosing at an early age
According to Selectivemutismcenter.org, most children receive diagnosis between the ages of 3 and 8 years old. Children respond better to forms of treatment the younger they are.
If left untreated, a child may remain mute for many years and this can eventually become a habit that will be harder to break the older they get. It may also lead to worsening anxiety, poor self-esteem or underachievement, to name but a few.
The earlier a diagnosis takes place, the more beneficial it is for the child that has SM. By teaching them proper coping mechanisms and applying the correct treatment, these children can end up functioning normally in society.
I think my child has Selective Mutism. What now?
First, and most importantly, if you suspect your child has SM, immediately stop being negative about the fact that they are not talking (this sometimes happens unintentionally, so it’s something to watch out for). Instead, why not rather praise all efforts when they eventually do talk or say something. They need to feel safe, loved and accepted not the other way around.
Secondly, educate yourself about the condition. You will know much better what to do if you have a better understanding of SM and what it is that your child is experiencing. To get you started, you can find very informative articles over at the website for the Selective Mutism Organization. They also provide access to support groups and research studies that will further assist you on your path.
Third, consult with a physician or therapist that has a good understanding of Selective Mutism and work together with them to help your child through this process. It is important to note that you do not want to work with a physician whose approach is to force the child to speak by enforcing discipline and the likes on the child. It is negative and not healthy and will only cause further anxiety for your child.
You may want to ask a potential doctor some of the following questions before making a final decision:
- Ask how many children they have treated with this condition and what the success rates were.
- Ask what their opinion is on the reasons a child may develop Selective Mutism.
- Ask for references of families they have worked with.
- Ask what their treatment approach is and what their approach is to using medication.
- Ask how you will fit into the picture. How will you or the child s teacher be involved in treatment?
It is important to remember that every child is different and it is best to work with your physician or therapist to create an individualized treatment plan for your child’s unique needs and circumstances.
Once you’ve chosen your professional, they will usually have an interview with you and an interview with the child. This will help them to get a better understanding of the surrounding circumstances and medical history. Often, the physician may commission a speech and language evaluation for the child as many kids with SM also have problems with speech or language development. Sometimes, a physical exam might be necessary.
What treatment options are available?
There are many forms of treatment available that will not force the child to speak, but rather teach them skills that will increase their self-esteem and confidence and lower their anxiety. A child may only need one form of treatment or a combination of the treatments may be applied. Here are some of the options:
- Behavioural Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- Play Therapy
- Boosting Self Esteem of the child
- Encouraging frequent socialization without pushing the child.
- Involve the family and school. Make sure everybody has a good understanding of what is happening
In conclusion, recognizing the symptoms and seeking the right treatment at an early age will greatly assist your child in overcoming Selective Mutism and to continue living a normal fear-free life.