Selective Mutism is a condition that most commonly affects children aged 3 onward and if treated properly the condition is often sufficiently dealt with by the time they reach adulthood. In rare cases, though, Selective Mutism remains a problem well into adulthood causing a lot of social strain and anxiety for the sufferer.
If you are looking for information about Selective Mutism in children, read this article: What is Selective Mutism in Children? by AnxietyPanda 🙂
As a cub, AnxietyPanda suffered from selective mutism. It was an extremely confusing and embarrassing period as few people really understood what was going on and AnxietyPanda was unable to express herself.
As a grownup bear, AnxietyPanda has luckily outgrown much of the symptoms. There are still rare occasions that trigger it now and then, but they are few, luckily, although often equally embarrassing and even frustrating sometimes when people say that you are only pretending… Or they say to you: “Why are you so quiet? Are you angry? Are you okay?” Ugghhhh.
What is Selective Mutism In Adults – A Quick Overview
Studies around this condition are vague and some have claimed it to be an extreme case of social anxiety where others have even claimed a link to autism or obsessive-compulsive disorder. AnxietyPanda sees it as a sort of speech phobia. You can talk and will talk if you’re comfortable, but certain situations or people may trigger this phobia and you just can’t speak.
Selective Mutism usually starts during early childhood and if left untreated can lead to having this condition throughout adulthood as well. This is quite a problem if you consider the fact that most careers involve speaking to a client, colleague or supplier perhaps.
In the 1930s the condition was referred to as “Elective Mutism” in reference to the fact that physicians believed that the patient chose not to spoke, rather than was incapable of speech due to fear.
The newer term, Selective Mutism, suits the condition far better in the sense that the sufferer does not have a choice in when they can and cannot speak and it is the popular term that is used for the condition today.
Myths about Selective Mutism
With all the mystery around Selective Mutism, let’s go ahead and bust a few myths surrounding this condition.
Myth! Selective Mutism Only Affects Children
As you have seen from the contents of this article, the statement that Selective Mutism only affects children is an absolute myth. Although more prominent in children, if left untreated it can easily transition into adulthood as well. Even with sufficient treatment, Selective Mutism may still poke out its head under certain circumstances during adulthood, but it will be much more manageable.
Myth! Selective Mutism is Caused by Childhood Abuse or Trauma
Many people believe that a child had to have experienced some sort of traumatic event during their childhood and that is the reason causing them to not be able to talk. This is simply not true.
Although shock from traumatic events may cause someone to lose their speech for a while, due to the stress, the rates of trauma in children with this condition are the same as the rates of trauma in children without the condition.
Myth! Selective Mutism Occurs Only in Educational Settings
This is a common misconception due to the fact that the condition is mostly recognized for the first time when a child enters new unfamiliar territories like going to school. Children with Selective Mutism will be able to hold perfectly normal conversations and keep eye contact with the people they know and are comfortable with, like family.
It usually onsets from about age 3 onward, and this is the period that the child spends mostly with people they know, so school is an obvious and common place for it to show its face, hence the misconception. But, it could just as well have been at another setting like at a festival or other public space.
Selective Mutism is not brought on by an environment, but rather by a specific person or persons.
Myth! Selective Mutism is a Choice, Not a Reaction
Please, please, please always remember that the person suffering from Selective Mutism really does want to speak with you. They are really physically unable to do this, no matter how they try. It is a strong mental block and certainly not a choice. Mostly, people with Selective Mutism would love to be able to say something.
It is incredibly disrespectful and hurtful to accuse the person of being stubborn and choosing not to talk. It’s frustrating to the sufferer as well because you are misunderstanding them and they are unable to express themselves to you.
Myth! Selective Mutism Can’t Cause any Long-term Problems
Wrong. It is extremely important to diagnose and treat this condition as soon as possible, as treatment becomes a lot more difficult the longer a child has this condition. Although the severity of the condition will slowly reduce with age, if left untreated into adulthood, it may cause them to have problems with their career and social life. It could also lead to Chronic Depression, Social Anxiety and other emotional problems.
Selective Mutism is not the same as shyness. Shyness can be overcome with time and is part of someone’s personality. Selective Mutism is a mental disorder that physically disables the sufferer due to a fear of speaking. They are afraid of embarrassment or judgment and sometimes can’t think of ANYTHING to say, even though they would love to speak with you.
Overcoming Adult Selective Mutism
Fortunately, it is possible to overcome your adult Selective Mutism, although you will still encounter episodes and repercussions of not having it treated sooner. But, there are ways for you to cope and manage this condition in order to live a functional life.
Stimulus Fading Technique
Start by interacting and speaking with the person in your life that you feel the most comfortable with. Then, one by one, bring in more people to join the conversation. As mentioned, start with the person you feel most comfortable with and gradually progress down the line to the person you feel least comfortable with or a stranger. The idea is that you will feel more comfortable in the presence of someone you trust, and your feelings of uncomfortableness with the other people will eventually fade away because you feel secure with the person that you trust.
Systematic Desensitization Technique
This exercise will take place entirely in your mind.
Start by imagining yourself in the situation that causes you to not be able to speak. Now, imagine yourself trying to speak with the people in the scenario using written communication such as emails, text, online or such. Then progress to interactions such as a phone conversation or video call. Finally, imagine yourself interacting and speaking directly to the persons involved. The idea is that gradual exposure to the anxiety causing situations will help the sufferer become desensitized to the fear.
Practice, practice, practice
As with anything, practice makes perfect.
You can practice by trying to whisper at a social engagement, and practice to gradually increase your volume to speaking level.
Practice positive thinking and affirmations, such as: ” I can talk. It is possible for me to talk” “My voice is just as important to be heard.” “I approve of myself. My thoughts are valid.”
Professional Help & Support Groups
For severe cases of Selective Mutism, the above-mentioned techniques may not be sufficient to overcome this condition. In such cases, it is important to seek professional help from a physician with experience in Selective Mutism. A combination of the above techniques and use of medications may be prescribed. Other treatments include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Shaping, and Graded Exposure techniques.
The effectiveness of any treatment will depend on how long you have been suffering from the condition and the co-operation of the people that are close to you and are involved in your life.
You can find information and support groups online, such as these ones on Facebook, SM Space Cafe and Support Selective Mutism. Other websites with valuable information, resources, and support include Finding Our Voices, iSpeak., Selective Mutism Association, Voice, and SM Journal (Japanese Forum).
Realizing that you have this condition and recognizing the situations and persons that cause to trigger this in you is the first step. Don’t feel ashamed of this condition, many adults are suffering from this. The sooner you get treatment the sooner you will be able to live a fuller life and reach your potential.
Feel free to leave us a comment and share your experiences as an adult with selective mutism.