We all want the best for our children and many of us strive to understand new developments in order to know how to help our future generation. While our understanding of medical or phycological conditions has grown enormously, we still have a long way to go. In comparison, 50 years ago, many conditions were not understood or recognized so they were grouped together and never specifically treated.

Today, we know that there are many different disorders that affect people so a child with a specific disorder such as autism or dyslexia can be treated rather than grouped into a category of being “slow”. People with depression or anxiety are no longer grouped into one category either. This posting is to raise awareness of an anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism. Decades ago these kids were labeled as shy and never treated appropriately so their advancement and chances of overcoming the condition was stunted.

Selective mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder in which a person who is normally capable of speech does not speak in specific situations or to specific people. Selective mutism usually co-exists with shyness or social anxiety. Children with selective mutism stay silent even when the consequences of their silence include shame, social ostracism or even punishment.

Imagine your child or grand-child wanting to respond but something inside them holds them back no matter how much they want to speak up. The behavior may be perceived as shyness or rudeness by others. As a parent, you already know that when young peers don’t understand something, they tend to steer clear of it or label the person as weird. This can be devastating to a child and have a lasting effect on their social development.

Now imagine that they already know this. They know those are likely the consequences but still can’t bring the words out no matter how badly they want to. It has to be an awfully isolating and confusing situation for a child. The fear of social embarrassment is so great that it can lead to social isolation or withdrawal.

A child with selective mutism may be completely silent at school for years but speak quite freely or even excessively at home. There is a hierarchical variation among people with this disorder: some people participate fully in activities and appear social but do not speak, others will speak only to peers but not to adults, others will speak to adults when asked questions requiring short answers but never to peers, and still others speak to no one and participate in few, if any, activities presented to them. In a severe form known as “progressive mutism”, the disorder progresses until the person with this condition no longer speaks to anyone in any situation, even close family members.

Selective mutism is strongly associated with anxiety disorders, particularly social anxiety disorder. Some researchers speculate that selective mutism may be an avoidance strategy used by a subgroup of children with social anxiety disorder to reduce their distress in social situations. SM can sometimes be confused with an autism spectrum disorder, especially if the child acts particularly withdrawn around his or her diagnostician, which can lead to incorrect treatment.

If you think someone you love may have this disorder, it’s important to get accurately diagnosed so it can be specifically treated. Here are some helpful links for more information about Selective Mutism. http://www.selectivemutism.org or http://www.selectivemutismfoundation.org