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Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that occurs during childhood. Usually, children aged 5 years old and below are the ones affected with this condition. The child with selective mutism chooses not to talk in one social situation; however, he or she is capable of talking in other settings. Selective mutism is observed at the beginning of the child’s school years, wherein he or she is observed to have communication difficulties in a certain situation. The condition may continue until adulthood if it is not treated properly during childhood. Selective mutism may also affect adults even if it did not occur during to their childhood days.

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Causes of selective mutism

There are several reasons for the occurrence of selective mutism in children. The following are the factors that contribute to the appearance of the disorder.

  • Hereditary

Though it is not proven that selective mutism is inherited from the parents, doctors have observed that there are many cases of selective mutism wherein parents have anxiety related conditions as well. Some of the children merely took on the anxiety disorder from their parents.

  • Other anxiety disorder

Children with social phobia are often affected with selective mutism. Social phobia or fear of facing the public greatly affects the child’s ability to speak effectively. They are afraid that people would judge or reject them in front of the public that is why it is better not to speak at all.

  • Self esteem issues

Some of the children with selective mutism have issues in their self image and confidence. Many children who stay at home most of the time have self esteem issues. Since they were not exposed to the society, they were not able to develop skills in relating to other people. When these children are exposed to other people, they lack confidence because they don’t know what to do and they worry what other people would think about him or her.

  • Lack of trust

Since the world today has many cases of crimes, the family would often teach the child not to trust anyone that they don’t know. This teaching can be carried over until the child reaches his or her adulthood. The child or the adult does not want to speak to other people because he or she thinks that those people cannot be trusted and will inflict harm to him or her.

  • Speech disorder

Children with speech disorder are also often affected by selective mutism since they cannot speak well in front of people. Many children have speech disorder due to their exposure to the many languages spoken by their families. Those children tend to be confused about what language to use when speaking with other people.

  • Abuse

Those children who are physically and emotionally abused are prone to have selective mutism. The child becomes quiet during interaction with other people because of the trauma experienced.

Signs and symptoms of selective mutism

When you look at a child with selective mutism, he or she looks physically well and you cannot say that he or she has an anxiety disorder. However, when you start to deal with him or her, it will become evident that there is something wrong in his or her behaviour.

A child with selective mutism is observed to be extremely shy. The child usually just bows his/her head when a person is speaking to him/her, and he or she does not respond at all. When the child is expected to speak in front of a gathering, he or she fails to articulate what he/she wanted to say due to fear. The anxiety felt by the child is high during this time that it interferes with her ability to talk effectively. Sometimes, the child isolates himself/herself from others. He or she sits, walks and plays alone because there is a withdrawal of self from others.

Selective Mutism Treatment, Management

The management methods done to treat selective mutism are difficult because the physician should be able relieve the anxiety of the child first. Behavioural modification can be implemented wherein a reward is given to the child if ever he or she speaks in front of people. This is sometimes called positive reinforcement. Desensitization can also help by exposing the child to the public and making him or her realize that the public is not a threat. After that, he or she can mingle with others without fear.

Having a healthy interaction with a child with selective mutism is difficult because you have to first establish a rapport with him/her for him or her to speak with you. The child may appear without any problems, but deep inside he/she may be struggling how to communicate effectively. So, do not immediately judge a child if ever he/she has a problem in communication, because for all you know, he or she could be suffering from selective mutism.

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