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Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is quite a rare and often misunderstood condition that affects school going children. This condition is characterized by difficulties or a complete failure to speak in social situations. It should be noted that in these cases, the ability to understand the language isn’t a problem and the same children will often be able to speak when they are in familiar environments.

The Symptoms of Selective Mutism

While the main symptom of selective mutism is the inability to speak in certain social situations, this condition can also be associated with social anxiety, as well as shyness. In many instances, the child doesn’t have difficulty with the language that is being spoken, although there are instances where communication or language disorders might coexist with this condition. This condition tends to affect children most often, although there are certain adolescents or adults that have struggled with the disorder in the past.

Difficulties At School

Children who are struggling with this condition tend to display the most symptoms while they are in school; something that could end up having a very negative impact on their grades, as well as their ability to make friends. When this condition persists into adulthood, adults could end up having a lot of difficulty speaking in public and this could then begin impacting on their professional careers, depending on what they do for a living.

Selective VS Elective Mutism

In the past, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) labeled this condition as “elective” mutism, because they assumed that the child simply refused to speak when they were in certain social situations. In most instances, the child will pick a family or friend and then use them to communicate with others.


Comorbidity refers to the conditions that appear most frequently in conjunction with these cases. In terms of selective mutism, many individuals also struggle with social phobia, which means that they aren’t comfortable in social situations, as well as agoraphobia, which directly translated means “fear of the market place”; in these instances, they are afraid of crowded or public areas and can often become homebound as a result. Panic attacks could end up becoming quite common in these situations and they could end up having a paralyzing effect on a person.

Diagnosing Selective Mutism

In order for a professional to diagnose this problem, they will evaluate the child to determine whether he or she struggles to speak in certain social situations when it is expected, even though they don’t find it difficult to speak in other situations (such as when they are in the company of family or friends). This condition must persist for at least a month and not be due to a change in the environment, such as going to school for the first time, before a child has gotten to know their surroundings. It is also important for professionals to determine whether or not the child has any difficulties in understanding the language in which they are communicating.

Once a professional begins the assessments and diagnosis, they will also need to check for underlying conditions, such as communicative disorders (stuttering etc) and possibly even schizophrenia.

In many instances, children are actually able to understand that their fears are irrational, although this isn’t enough for them to overcome these anxieties. Professional therapy can be utilized to assist in alleviating many of the symptoms associated with the condition, although it is just as important for the underlying causes to be treated; in these instances, medications might also be utilized, particularly in cases where the conditions are more severe.

With the right support, children with selective mutism have a positive prognosis that will allow them to grow out of the condition, although this is something that will depend on the underlying symptoms and the severity of the disorder itself.

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