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The Struggles of Children and Teens With Selective Mutism

Children with Selective Mutism were unable to speak and communicate effectively in selective social setting / Photo by Getty Images

 

Selective Mutism is “a complex childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a child’s inability to speak and communicate effectively in select social settings", according to SelectiveMutismCenter.org. It is also said that 90% of individuals who suffer from this condition are also often diagnosed with social anxiety or may also have a social phobia. However, they are able to speak in settings where they feel more at ease, like their home.

Children or adolescents with Selective Mutism are severely shy and timid. They may express their anxiety in various ways. Others may stay completely silent and not say anything in a social situation, while some may be able to whisper and say a few words. When they face a certain social situation, they may be paralyzed with fear. They may also appear-poker-faced, not show any emotion, frozen and they may also be socially isolated. They find it extremely hard to communicate even in a non-verbal way. They tend to feel very uncomfortable when they are expected to talk in a social setting.

Individuals who suffer from mild Selective Mutism may have the capacity to socialize with a few children but may be totally mute in front of most children and teachers. It is a condition found to be more prevalent in women than in men.

Causes

Nhs.uk says that experts are unable to point out what actually causes Selective Mutism. However, this condition is said to be linked with anxiety. One of the theories of its causes is separation anxiety. When they are away from their parents, this separation may cause them to be too distressed to say anything.

Another possible reason is that they may have sensory integration dysfunction, which prompts them to have a hard time taking in sensory information like loud noises. As a result, they are unable to speak because they feel too overwhelmed.

This may also be one of the manifestations of post-traumatic stress. As a symptom of this disorder, the child may struggle with speaking in certain places or circumstances which they could speak in before.

However, it is noted that there are no studies showing that Selected Mutism can be triggered by traumatic events or by abuse.

Symptoms

Psychology Today states that people who are affected by Selective Mutism are extremely shy and careful when they face new situations, even as babies. Some of the physical symptoms that they may display are being awkward with their gestures or other kinds of non-verbal communication, being motionless and not showing any facial expressions.

They may also refrain from making eye contact and may seem nervous, rude or sulky. They may act clingy towards friends or adults they are familiar with. They may also look shy and withdrawn. When they arrive home from school, they may show tantrums or respond to their parents asking about their school activities by answering angrily.

Some of them may relay what they want to convey through gestures like nodding or shaking their head. They may also answer with a different voice, like whispering. To add, they may sometimes have one-word replies or use few words.

Treatment

To help a child or teen recover from Selective Mutism, parents or teachers can help them choose from many treatment methods. The patients may go through different kinds of therapy, take medication and engage in activities that can help increase their self-esteem as well encouraging them to socialize often.

Some of the recommended therapies for Selective Mutism patients are Social Communication Anxiety Therapy (S-CAT), Behavioral Therapy, Play Therapy, Psychotherapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

In addition to their therapy, doctors may also prescribe the children or adolescents with medication. They may be instructed to take some Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors like Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, Paxil an Luvox. This may help reduce or cure them of their anxiety. Other doctors may suggest that they use medicines that will help fix any issues with their neurotransmitters, such as Buspar and Effexor XR.

Parents are advised to highlight their children’s positive traits. For instance, if their child is artistic, they may display their artwork and make an exhibit of their drawings or paintings. They may tell the child to explain to an audience what they felt while making the artwork or why they painted or drew them.

 

A play therapy can help a child or teen to increase their self-esteem / Photo by Getty Images

 

The parents of the child must also be able to inform the teachers of the school and other school staff about their child’s condition. They should be able to make them understand that the child is silent not because they are being rebellious or stubborn, but because they cannot talk in some specific social settings.

Parents should also help in boosting their child’s social life without being too forceful. They may do this by organizing hang-outs with people they are close to or by letting them have play-dates with their friends. Having regular meetings with their friends may help them to gradually become more relaxed and cause them to talk more. They may ask one child at a time to come and visit their house.

Lastly, the relatives of the child must be there for every step they take towards their treatment. In order for them to be treated more quickly, they may have to alter some of their expectations or their parenting styles. Their children should not be obligated to talk. This could just make them more anxious. Instead, parents should assure their children that they accept them, understand their feelings, and they are always there to support them.

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