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Understanding a Child with Selective Mutism

Crying Child
Understanding a Child with Selective Mutism
on June, 03 2014
Crying Child

Image credit: Crying child taken by D. Sharon Pruitt under Public Domain.

There are children who are able to develop their speaking skills well. However, under certain circumstances, they totally choose not to speak. This condition is called selective mutism. It is a condition related with social anxiety and stress. There are a lot of reasons why children develop this condition. Whatever the reason may be, they definitely need understanding and love.

Causes of Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is usually related to either a traumatic experience in the past or being overwhelmed in a new environment. For instance, the child has experienced painful rejection when speaking to a group of people before, the child won’t be able to speak with the same people again or with different people in the same environment. There are also those who have moved to a new place and were overwhelmed with the changes. As a result, they have decided to completely shut up. Loss of a loved one or a painful experience might also be a cause for this condition. Since the child has not moved on yet with what has happened, there is a great chance that he or she won’t talk to people again.

Symptoms of Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is sometimes difficult to diagnose as the child might only opt not to speak in very specific situations. Therefore, whether the child is at home or at school, someone must check if the child fails to speak in certain conditions. If the child demonstrates the following, then there really is a problem:

• Constant failure to speak up in a specific environment, be it at school or at the park, while they speak normally in other environments.

• The child shows poor performance in school in subjects where there is a need for the child to speak up in front of the class or join group discussions. This means that in those instances, the child has chosen to completely shut down.

• If the problem persists for over a month, then something is really wrong. Take note that this inability to speak is not because of the child’s discomfort or lack of knowledge of the language used by their peers. They can communicate if they want to, but they opt not to.

• Selective mutism must not be confused with other speech disorders such as stuttering. The cause might be the same, but the symptoms are different. Therefore, there must be a different way of addressing the problem.

How to Help a Child with Selective Mutism

• Never force the child to speak. Find situations such as games, activities and exercises where the child will be able to speak organically.

• Provide a loving and caring environment for the child wherever he or she may be. By then, it will be easier to build trust. Soon, the child might be able to speak again in those instances.

• Never punish the child for not speaking. This will just worsen the problem. Also, don’t let the child feel that academic performance is suffering because of selective mutism.

• Find other ways for the child to enjoy school activities without necessarily speaking. In a month or so, the child might start talking again.

• Medication might only be necessary for extreme cases. Antidepressants are given to children as long as they have approval from the doctor.

No child deliberately wants to have selective mutism. However, with a child’s experience in life, their minds tell them not to speak. Thus, they need patience, love and understanding.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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