What is Selective Mutism?
In the world of speech and language, there is a wide range of behaviors that extend from “feeling shy” to what is known as “selective mutism”. In most cases, selective mutism is the result of fear or anxiety related to being seen or heard talking. Children with selective mutism may speak normally in certain situations (such as at home with family) but may not talk in others (at school, for example, or when around people who are unfamiliar.)
Approximately 1 in every 143 children experiences selective mutism. In some cases, there might be a family history of social anxiety or extreme shyness, especially for those who experienced this during childhood. Some children with selective mutism may also present other symptoms such as clinginess or separation anxiety, irritability or moodiness, difficulty with transitions or adapting to new spaces/people, and frequent crying or meltdowns. Some children may also exhibit difficulties related to sleep and toileting.
Many parents of children with selective mutism notice signs of extreme shyness or anxiety within the first year of their child’s life. In most cases of selective mutism, however, a diagnosis is not achieved until the child becomes school age. It is also common for selective mutism to occur alongside other disorders such as developmental issues or anxiety in other areas. You can learn more about selective mutism and how speech therapy can help by scheduling your free introductory call today!
Is Selective Mutism a Speech Impediment?
Approximately 30% of those diagnosed with selective mutism also have specific difficulties related to speech and language. It is important to note that differentiating between shyness and selective mutism varies between cases and depends on how severely affected the child is. Selective mutism is not classified as a speech impediment. Instead, it is regarded as a childhood anxiety disorder, as the child is able to speak properly but will choose not to in certain situations as a result of anxiety.
Does Selective Mutism Go Away?
Because selective mutism is most often the result of anxiety, it typically will not go away if left unaddressed. It is important that selective mutism is treated because it can have major effects on the child’s ability to succeed in school, develop relationships with their peers and can also affect their self-esteem and self-worth. In many cases, selective mutism prevents the child from playing with others, having fun, and engaging in important childhood experiences. It also can result in their personal or academic needs not being met, as they are unable to advocate for themselves or ask for help.
With the support and guidance of an experienced speech-language pathologist, a child with selective mutism can make great strides in their communication skills. When the underlying anxiety is addressed and the child is supported, selective mutism can go away. You can learn more about how a speech therapist can help eliminate selective mutism by scheduling your free introductory call today!
How Can Speech Therapy Help with Selective Mutism? How Can Selective Mutism be Improved?
Speech therapy is a great resource when it comes to helping someone with selective mutism. Even though in most cases the child has the ability to speak, time with a speech therapist will help to build confidence and ease the child’s anxiety. The treatment plan for a child with selective mutism will vary between cases, as each person may have a different set of skills that they need to work on. A speech-language pathologist will work with the child to help them become comfortable speaking in any situation. They may also help the child to change their patterns of behavior that occur when they don’t want to speak. In some cases, selective mutism is secondary to another speech problem (such as a stutter) and when the underlying speech issue is addressed, the selective mutism may disappear as well.
Some of the strategies an SLP might employ when working with a child with selective mutism include:
Stimulus Fading: Stimulus fading is a strategy that begins by using an individual that the child is comfortable speaking with. Then, the SLP will add in a new person, and encourage the child to continue as they were before.
Shaping: This strategy involves the SLP giving rewards to the child when they attempt to communicate, whether they are successful or not. At first, the child may only point or use hand gestures. From there, they may mouth a word or whisper it. Building upon these steps of communication, the goal is to eventually get the child to comfortably speak in all situations.
Self-Modeling Technique: This technique involves the child watching videos of themselves when they were in a comfortable and familiar situation, like at home for example. Seeing themselves speak with ease and confidence, will help the child to feel more comfortable and confident about their speaking abilities.
A speech-language pathologist will also help to remediate any other speech, language or communication challenges the child might have. This might look like helping them to speak specific sounds or helping them with the volume of their voice. The SLP may also ask questions and invite the child to share their thoughts and ideas, without adding pressure or expectation. The child may become more willing to speak around others once they feel more confident in their own speaking abilities. Sometimes the SLP will work collaboratively with other adults and care professionals in the child’s life, such as their teachers, caregivers, and family members. The goal of speech therapy for selective mutism is to help the child to feel confident speaking to others in all situations. Get started on the path to improved communication skills by scheduling your free introductory call today!