By Naseerah Nanbhai
Selective mutism, also known as childhood anxiety disorder, is the inability to speak or communicate in specific settings. It can start as early as two years of age, and those who suffer from it may experience significant problems in school and social situations.
Symptoms of selective mutism include the use of non-verbal communication to express needs, inability to speak in school and other specific social situations, shyness, fear of people, avoiding eye contact, lack of movement, or lack of expression when in feared situations.
While selective mutism’s origins and risk factors are not fully understood, research suggests that it is unlikely to have one cause. Often is co-occurs with other disorders such as developmental delays, language problems, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and panic disorders.
For children who suffer from selective mutism, treatment options include behavioural therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Behavioural therapy concentrates directly on reducing or managing problematic behaviours while not paying attention to thoughts, events, or circumstances that may have prompted the behaviours. Medication is used when behavioural therapy is unsuccessful or in severe and chronic cases.
Typically, the prognosis for children who suffer from selective mutism is good. They generally do not have difficulty in other areas, and unless there is another problem that contributes to the condition, they do not have to attend a special school.
While it may be difficult for parents of children who suffer from selective mutism, it is important to remember that children should never be pushed to speak. The pace of treatment should be gradual, and children should not be asked to do something difficult for them. This careful progression helps children gain confidence and prepares them for progressively more challenging experiences.