As someone who works in, loves learning about, and feels connected to the field of mental health, sometimes I watch and read things that grow my personal knowledge base. Recently, I have been learning more about two specific childhood onset disorders that are either not commonly understood or are often misunderstood. These are Selective Mutism and Tourette’s Syndrome. In today’s post, I will focus on Selective Mutism.
Selective Mutism is a childhood onset anxiety disorder that has only been recognized in more recent years. Between YouTube, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and having a couple former clients with the disorder, I have learned a few things about the disorder.
It is a disorder that starts out early (often early elementary school) in which a normally verbal child does not talk or very scarcely talks to a very limited amount of people in one or more settings (such as school). This is not out of defiance but rather the child being so paralyzed by fear that they cannot talk to anyone or only with great difficulty can talk to a very limited number of people in that particular setting. This disorder appears to affect more girls than boys. Most children affected by this disorder also have social anxiety disorder.
There are a few different treatment methods available that may involve play, behavioral, social, and medicinal interventions but the biggest thing is to not put pressure on the child to talk in that setting, only present them with opportunities to do so while allowing them to communicate in nonverbal ways without fear of punishment. What I have done with the couple kids I have worked with who have had this disorder, without knowing at the time what treatment approaches are typically used with this population, was try to encourage them to talk but not force them and utilize play with them. I had one child that together we figured out how she could play Uno without having to say a single word if she was unable to!
One concerning issue that can occur with severe forms of this disorder is the inability to verbalize needs in the anxiety producing setting. For example, one girl I briefly worked with had an issue of not letting the teacher know she needed to go to the bathroom and as a result urinating on herself. In a documentary I watched, a girl with this disorder became ill at school one day and vomited on herself because she was unable to verbalize to her teacher that she felt nauseous.
Thankfully many (although not all) children who have this disorder eventually outgrow it. If you are interested in learning more about this disorder, I suggest you check out the following link.
Thanks for reading my brief introduction to Selective Mutism! Hope you will check out part 2 next week where I will discuss Tourette’s Syndrome!