It is not that he has become mute; it is that he cannot speak in certain situations. Selective mutism is a problem that affects 1 in 1,000 children and can carry over into adulthood. It is related to extreme shyness, social, fear of public speaking or stage fright, but in any case it is an anxiety disorder that should be treated as soon as possible. Do you want to know more about selective mutism? We tell you what exactly it consists of, what its causes, its symptoms are and how it can be treated.
What is selective mutism?
Selective autism is detected in childhood. It is a difficulty to express you verbally in some situations or environments, such as school, in the park or in other social interactions that are outside the closest or familiar environment. It is not a question of language skills, the child with selective autism can speak perfectly, but only if they are comfortable.
It belongs to the field of anxiety and should not be considered “children’s things”, hobbies or simple shyness. If it is not treated, selective autism drags itself into adulthood, increasing the limitations in the personal, professional, social and affective development of that first child, then an adolescent and later an adult.
Causes of selective umtism
But what is the cause of selective autism? A failure in linguistic abilities is ruled out, so we must look at the emotional aspect. The main cause of selective autism is anxiety. Contrary to what is thought, anxiety is not an exclusively adult disease, but the impact that this disorder has on the lives of children is still not given enough importance.
The anxiety that leads to selective autism is related to excessive perfectionism, high self-demands, and also certain fears, such as fear of making a fool of yourself, that other children will laugh at what they say, of not being heard or account or the classic fear of adults to be judged. It is a kind of social phobia that manifests itself in the inability to speak when you are in a situation that you consider dangerous.
The genetic factor is not ruled out as a cause of selective autism, which does not mean in any case that it cannot be treated or that it cannot be overcome. Shyness, which in some cases is also thought to be genetic, can in turn favor selective autism. And as in the case of phobias, the origin of this disorder can also be found in a traumatic experience.
Selective autism is observed in all types of children, of all classes and conditions, but it seems that there is an increase in cases in children from broken families, socially withdrawn due to family conflicts that they experience daily or those who have been victims or witnesses of abuses.
Symptoms of selective mutism
You may know of a case or may be experiencing it with your own children. One day they call you from school and tell you that your son does not speak, that he does not participate in class and that there is no way to get a word out of him. He misses you, because at home everything is normal, your child speaks perfectly and does not seem to have any cognitive difficulties. Maybe he is a bit shy.
Indeed, children with selective mutism are inhibited when it comes to speaking outside of their closest environment. This can cause quite a few academic problems, since they do not participate in classes, much less in group work.
The suffering of a person with selective mutism is something to take into account, since in children it completely stops their development in all areas of life. A silent child is a socially isolated child at risk of bullying. Subsequently, he will be an adolescent with little or no integration that little by little will become an adult with emotional disorders.
The symptoms of selective mutism are physical and psychological. On the one hand, it is an anxiety disorder that causes the classic symptoms such as sweating, dizziness, nausea, palpitations or a feeling of unreality. On the other hand, there is that terrifying fear of speaking that does not stop being less intense because it is irrational.
This problem when it comes to speaking that turns a developing child into a silent and non-participative child inevitably causes self-esteem problems . At that age when social ties extend from family to schoolmates, the child with selective mutism remains socially stuck in an eternal childhood.
Selective mutism in adults
We insist that selective mutism is not a merely infantile disorder. It is true that it appears in childhood, but its lack of treatment has a negative impact on adult life. That famous fear that so many people suffer from can become pathological to the point of giving up a job so as not to have to face the dreaded situation.
Adults suffer the consequences of selective mutism in the form of social phobia, sometimes agoraphobia and extreme difficulty in fully developing their social and emotional life. People understand each other by talking, they say, that’s why people with selective mutism live surrounded by incomprehension.
And in the face of any disorder, as adults that we are, we must seek a solution and a treatment. The limitations imposed by selective mutism do not benefit us at all when it comes to having a full, meaningful and happy life. So it is time to look for the best therapy to overcome this disorder.
Treatment of selective mutism
First of all, we must bear in mind that we cannot overcome a lifetime of selective mutism and its consequences by our own means. Psychological help is essential and in many cases the support of a speech therapist is also necessary. Although cognitive cannot be missing due to its great effectiveness in treating any emotional disorder, there are other strategies with which it can be combined.
As for example, gradual exposure therapy. The person with selective mutism selects situations in which they cannot speak and chooses one of the less complicated ones. A wedding of some distant cousins is a good occasion to start practicing speaking among all those people. And so, little by little, increase the difficulty of the feared situations.
It helps a lot to record the person with selective mutism when they are interacting and speaking normally in a situation that is comfortable for them. This reduces the feeling of incapacity: it’s not that you don’t have the ability to speak, because when you feel good you can do it perfectly.
Due to the relationship of selective mutism with anxiety, it does not hurt to practice relaxation, which reduces nervousness and helps put fear coping strategies into action.
And taking into account that we are dealing with a disorder that has shyness as a cause or consequence, it is also necessary to acquire skills in the field of social skills. But all this, we insist, from the hand of a professional.