Selective Mutism

(Also Known As: Selective Mute, Mutism, Elective Mutism)

(Reviewed by: Paul Peterson, Licensed Therapist)

What is Selective Mutism?

Selective Mutism is a childhood condition in which a child remains completely silent or near silent in social situations.1 This disorder was formerly known as elective mutism, which indicates a widespread misconception even among psychologists that Selectively Mute people choose to be silent in certain situations, while the truth is that they are forced by their extreme anxiety to remain silent; despite their will to speak, they just cannot. To reflect the involuntary nature of this disorder, its name was changed to Selective Mutism in 1994.2 Selective Mutism is a rare psychological disorder in children. Most children and adults with this disorder are capable of speech and understanding language, but they fall completely silent, whisper, and use single-syllable words, or use eye contact and other non-verbal gestures during stressful situations. Individuals with Selective Mutism function normally in other areas of behavior and learning, though appear severely withdrawn, and some are unable to participate in group activities. As an example, a child with Selective Mutism may be completely silent at school, for years at a time, but speak quite freely or even excessively at home.

The condition of Selective Mutism in children can sometimes be confused with an autism spectrum disorder. This is usually the case when the child acts particularly reticent around his or her doctor. This can appallingly lead to misdiagnosis and thus, incorrect treatment and therapy. Individuals with Selective Mutism can communicate normally when they are in a comfortable situation. On the other hand, this is also true for individuals on the autism spectrum, especially those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Although children on the autism spectrum may also be selectively mute, they display other behaviors such as hand flapping, repetitive behaviors, social isolation (even among family members), sensory integration difficulties and poor eye contact, all of which are not manifested by patients with Selective Mutism. If a child is simply not speaking in social situations, this is likely not an autism spectrum disorder, but may be Selective Mutism. In other words, children with Selective Mutism are not necessarily autistic, but children with autism, which has a large anxiety component, frequently display symptoms of Selective Mutism. It is critical to have a child with these symptoms evaluated by a developmental pediatrician.3

Could You Have Selective Mutism?

Selective Mutism Topics

Related Conditions

Anxiety Disorder NOS – Irrational Fears, Anxiety, Phobia, Depression, Stress
Reactive Attachment Disorder – Inappropriate Ways to Relate Socially, Failure to Form Normal Attachment to Caregivers During Childhood
Separation Anxiety Disorder – Anxiety From Separation to a Care Giver, Strong Emotional Attachment
Social Anxiety Disorder – Social Phobia, Distressed, Depression, Anxious, Chronic Fear, Panic Attack, Intense Fear and Anxiety