What is Selective Mutism?

Selective Mutism is an anxiety disorder characterized by not speaking outside the home to select individuals or in select settings, which continues for more than 1 month. Most commonly found in children, they understand spoken language and have the ability to speak but often are reluctant to speak in some settings, have a phobia of speaking and fear of people. Selective Mutism is related to severe anxiety, shyness, and social anxiety.

Sad lonely boy looking at kids playing togetherThe first symptoms of Selective Mutism are usually noticeable between the ages of 1 to 3 years. However, it is usually not recognized until the child begins school and is requested to respond verbally and/or interact in social situations, including pre-school, elementary school, and community environments. Sometimes, even then, the child is viewed as shy and it is assumed that the shyness is temporary and will be outgrown. The cause has not been established. However, recent research suggests the possibility of genetic influence or vulnerability for Selective Mutism.

For those experiencing severe forms of Selective Mutism, immediate intervention is advisable because the symptoms can increase. Generally speaking, a younger child has a good chance of recovering, if treated, because of the shorter interval of time where no verbalization has occurred in school or in other major settings. Selective Mutism is not a speech disorder nor is it Autism.