Selective Mutism, sometimes known as Elective Mutism, is a mental health condition in which an individual is unable to speak and communicate effectively in select social situations (e.g., school) despite being able to speak normally in others (e.g., at home). Individuals with Selective Mutism may communicate using nonverbals such as nodding or pointing, or they may speak only in whispers and only to certain people. For a person to have Selective Mutism, the speech difficulties must be present at least one month, and must not be due to a lack of knowledge or comfort with the spoken language in question. For example, a young child who does not speak at school because her family speaks a different language at home would probably not have Selective Mutism. Selective Mutism typically becomes apparent as children enter school, but can occur at any age. Children with Selective Mutism often do not speak in school, their academic and social performance may suffer. Selective Mutism is an anxiety disorder, and the person is likely to fear social embarrassment. Their lack of speech represents an attempt to avoid social embarrassment. In the short term, failure to speak provides relief from their anxiety. However, anxiety around speech and embarrassment increase in the long term, paradoxically making it more difficult for the child to initiate speech.
Besides failure of speech, other symptoms of Selective Mutism may include the following:
- Extreme shyness
- Social isolation and withdrawal
- Lack of eye contact
- Clinging behaviors, not wanting to be without parent or caregiver
- Freezing when asked to speak
- Temper tantrums when asked to speak
We at The OCD & Anxiety Center specialize in the treatment of anxiety disorders including Selective Mutism, and have the necessary training and resources to deliver evidence-based treatment to Selective Mutism sufferers of all ages. We use Exposure and Response Prevention therapy (ERP) in the treatment of Selective Mutism, as this is the therapy treatment which has proven most effective for anxiety disorders. Through ERP, individuals with Selective Mutism learn to gradually begin communicating again, starting with hand gestures and one-word responses, and building up to full sentences and conversations. They learn to face their fears about social embarrassment and to form social relationships, first with their therapist, and then with others in their lives. Finally, if you or someone you know would benefit from our specialized Selective Mutism treatment services, please reach out to us at (630) 522-3124 today!