Are some kids really shy and not wanting to talk and you just don't know what's going on with them? There could be a social fear or because of something they may be experiencing and they may have a difficult way to express that? Well this is a condition that has been seen in young children (mostly of preschool age) who are more vulnerable to the condition, that older children. It is selective mutism (SM).
Researchers believe this is associated with social anxiety...but it is the persistent lack of speaking in one or more specific social settings. What you as a parent has to make sure, is that the child is able to speak and communicate in places like home or around family members; where he or she feels comfortable and safe around. Children who are seen completely silent or near silent and at times, can be seen just whispering at school, and exhibiting selective mutism. It is not difficult to make this diagnosis, because it will be clear that the child can speak in familiar settings (and does not have a language barrier) but is completely mute in social environments.
Children with SM are seen to also have temper tantrums, anxiety and at times show frustration by being compulsive; while other children use other gestures to communicate like shaking their head, or saying "uh-huh" or "no" They can also exhibit physical symptoms of "tummy ache" and "tired"
What causes SM?
It has been shown that SM is seen with social anxiety disorder (90% of children) and more common in girls. Kids can also develop problems with speech or delay in starting to talk. Some researchers believe that when there is maternal overprotection and anxiety disorders in the parents, this can be a trigger for SM (so mom, back off and give them some room to grow). On the positive side, many young children spontaneously "out grow" (woo hoo!) this disorder as they get older. Some children have been predisposed to SM after early emotional or physical trauma as well. This has been called traumatic mutism by some doctors and clinicians.
What is SM not?
This is the difficult task of some doctors and psychologists, because it can appear to look like a language delay or autism. This can happen in small children who are just quiet in very specific situations like school or at the playground. This can be mistaken in autism which can be thought of as the child not wanting to make social interaction with his peers. SM is also not a child who is shy; which is seen when a child is shy in most places not just in social environments. The shy child only has this muteness in new situations that can cause anxiety, but not in all places at all times like seen in SM. When a child has mental retardation or other developmental delays, the mutism can be seen in all areas, including at home with family members.
If you have any questions and would like to speak with someone about this condition...do not hesitate to reach out. You can also visit https://selectivemutismcenter.org/ for more information. Or see our doctors at www.larkinhospital.com