Selective mutism is a complex childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a child's inability to speak and communicate effectively in select social settings, such as school. These children are able to speak and communicate in settings where they are comfortable, secure, and relaxed. It is not to be confused with children who refuse to speak in certain situations when they have the ability to do so.
Defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, selective mutism often co-exists with social phobia and other anxiety disorders. It is more than just shyness, and it is not associated with speech and language problems.
• If your child consistently does not speak in specific situations where speaking is expected, such as at school or in the community.
• When this pattern has lasted for more than one month, excluding the first month of school.
• If the inability to speak interferes with educational or occupational achievement or with social communication.
• When the lack of speaking is not due to a lack of knowledge or comfort with the spoken language required in the social situation.
• If the disturbance is not better accounted for by a communication disorder and does not occur exclusively during a pervasive developmental disorder, schizophrenia, or other psychotic disorder.
Psychologists can provide cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which has been found to be effective for selective mutism. The aim is to enhance the child's ability to communicate in the previously feared or avoided setting by eliminating negative reinforcements and setting up positive reinforcements for speech.
If your child is struggling with selective mutism, don't hesitate to reach out. Our team of compassionate, experienced psychologists is here to help your child find their voice. Contact us today and take the first step towards a brighter future.