What is Selective Mutism?

Selective Mutism is considered to be a childhood anxiety disorder. It is described as an inability to speak in certain social settings such as at school. Less than 1% of children have selective mutism.

These children are mute as they are too afraid to speak. The main criterion used to diagnose Selective Mutism is a consistent inability to speak in certain situations (e.g. school) despite being able to speak at home or other places where they feel relaxed and not fearful.

What Causes Selective mutism?

It is possible the child has a genetic predisposition for this disorder. Children who may have this disorder are typically very shy, anxious and worry about embarrassing themselves in front of others. These children find it difficult to ask for assistance, play sport, avoid eye contact when people are speaking to them, lower their voice and use few words. Children who have language difficulties may be more prone to developing the disorder.

Selective Mutism often co-occurs with:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Language Delay
  • Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder
  • Panic Attacks

What Can A Parent Do to Assist Their Child?

  1. Do not force your child to attend activities that heighten their anxiety.
  2. Reward your child for progress, DO NOT punish him / her for not speaking. It may be possible, depending on the child’s age, inquiring as to why they feel anxious in those moments.
  3. Inform teachers and any others who work with your child, so that they have an understanding of your child’s behaviour and how they can best communicate with them.
  4. Read books to your child about feelings of nervousness, shyness allowing them to understand their own feelings. It will potentially provide them with strategies in how they may overcome their feelings.

Children who suffer from Selective Mutism need to see a psychologist / paediatric psychiatrist.