The word “mutism” itself is defined as the “inability to speak, typically as a result of congenital deafness or brain damage.” (Oxford Dictionary). Selective Mutism is exactly what it sounds like – it is a severe anxiety disorder where a person is unable to speak in certain social situations, but is able to in others.
Disclaimer: Since Selective Mutism is still quite rare, causes of this condition are not fully researched and understood
Inherited anxiety disorder
Constantly being misunderstood by peers or the people around them
Extreme social anxiety
Childhood abuse (Causes Traumatic Mutism)
Trauma (Causes Traumatic Mutism)
A speech/language disabilities (eg: stuttering)
Severe self-esteem issues
Children who suffer from Selective Mutism are often seen as autistic.
Whilst the symptoms of Selective Mutism and Autism are similar, the symptoms of Autism appear in all kinds of situations and in all kinds of places. For Selective Mutism (as can be derived from the word “selective”), the symptoms only show up in specific situations or places.
Selective Mutism is not commonly known because it normally develops from a young age (unless developed through trauma), and teachers will often let their parents know that their child is just shy.
FALSE Children have a big range of personalities and seeming shy is normal, especially for a teacher that has been teaching younger children for a long period of time. However, children with Selective Mutism are not just shy. Younger, shy, children tend to open up in situations or places where they’ve grown comfortable in; however, Selective Mutism, if left untreated, can worsen as they reach adulthood.
Selective Mutism does not go away on its own. Despite having very little research done on this topic, therapists have used Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for both children and adults. CBT sessions are uncomfortable for the clients because it becomes progressively harder and forces them to step out of their comfort zone in sessions. Over time, the clients will learn to avoid stressful situations or learn to get more comfortable with speaking in front of classmates or co-workers.
Medication such as Fluoxetine (SSRI) is also known to reduce Selective Mutism symptoms in 70% of affected children.
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It takes lots of patience when teaching or working with someone who has Selective (or Traumatic) Mutism.
How to help:
Let them go at their own pace
Give them resources if you see them struggling
Offer guidance and love (non-verbally) (eg: shoot them a text or just simply smile at them)
Give them warm-up time
Approach them scheduled (let them know so that you won’t alarm them)
Accept non-verbal cues and communication (eg: shaking of heads and gesturing)
Sources: Oxford Dictionary