Selective Mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder that occurs when a child has difficulty speaking in select situations in which he or she does not feel comfortable. For example, a child might be able to speak and communicate with a parent in settings where he or she feels safe and relaxed, such as at home. This child may not speak to the same parent in a different setting, such as at a restaurant or in the classroom. To meet diagnostic criteria for Selective Mutism, a child must be able to speak in at least one setting, and fail to speak in another setting where there is an expectation for speaking. Some children may be completely mute and unable to communicate with anyone in a particular setting, whereas other children may be able to gesture nonverbally, whisper, or speak to a select person or two.
Importantly, selective mutism is NOT the result of trauma or a negative experience. Children with Selective Mutism are not purposefully being defiant, oppositional, or manipulative by not talking. Instead, these children likely have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, have shy or inhibited temperaments, sensory challenges, or difficulties with language (e.g., expressive or receptive language delays). Selective Mutism CAN be treated. The earlier a child is evaluated and treated, the better the overall prognosis.
Children and teens with Selective Mutism and other anxiety disorders benefit from counseling. For more information about our counseling services, please call us at 215-487-1330.
Author: Lauren Steinbeck, M.A.