Selective mutism is a social anxiety disorder that inhibits a child’s ability to speak in one or more social situations. Many times, those afflicted by selective mutism will only be able to speak with close family members and not show any verbal skills at school, for instance. In severe cases of selective mutism, a person can go months – even years – without speaking a single word out loud. It is commonly misdiagnosed as autism or speech-related problems because of its similarity with other disabilities such as expressive language disorder and stuttering. The simple truth is that many children suffer from selective mutism but are never properly diagnosed because they lack the age-appropriate communication skills necessary to express themselves to doctors and parents. If left undiagnosed and untreated, selective mutism can lead to other problems such as poor social skills, behavioral issues in school, sleep difficulties, low self-esteem, anxiety/depression, and academic underachievement.
Selective Mutism and The problems
The problem with selective mutism is that many doctors fail to look for potential signs during routine checkups. Most parents don’t even know what to look for because they lack knowledge about this disorder; however, there are certain key issues that should raise red flags if noticed by parents. According to the Selective Mutism Group (SMG), “some warning signs include finding excuses not to go to certain places or people, anxiety when taken to public places or around certain people, clingy behavior when in public, refusal to speak around strangers and family members, fear of being called on in class, not talking even when spoken to directly, avoiding eye contact with adults.” These are all behavior patterns a parent may witness before taking a child to a doctor for a proper diagnosis. Depending on the severity of their case, children suffering from selective mutism might also experience other physical or mental problems such as bed-wetting or changes in eating habits; these too should be an indication that something is wrong. If you notice any warning signs like those mentioned above (or others), talk to your child’s pediatrician immediately.
Causes of selective mutism
The simple answer: we don’t know. However, there are a few factors that have been linked to selective mutism which include:
1. Genetics – If a parent has SM, there is a higher chance the child will too.
2. Child’s cultural environment – In certain cultures or households it may be worse for the child to speak out of turn.
3. Insecurity – Children suffering from autism or other developmental disorder often feel insecure about speaking up because they’re unable to communicate properly.
4. Fear of being embarrassed – Many children don’t want their peers to make fun of them if they do something wrong.
5. Shyness – Some kids may simply be shy; there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with that.
6. Stress/Anxiety –It may be the reason for it.
7. Isolation – It’s not uncommon for children with disabilities or developmental disorders to spend most of their time alone in their rooms.
If you suspect your child is suffering from selective mutism, keep an eye out for these warning signs and contact your doctor immediately so they can refer you to a speech therapist who can properly diagnose your child with this disorder. There is hope for kids struggling with SM; though it will take time and patience, children diagnosed with selective mutism can learn to speak up when needed.