Selective Mutism in Children: Silence Beyond Shyness
Selective mutism is considered a social anxiety order most commonly observed in children. Symptoms of the selectively mute child typically surface when the child starts pre-school or nursery school; since the child chatters fluently at home, parents may not be aware of any incongruous behavior. Teachers may at first assume that the child is “just shy”; for many kids exposed to a large group setting for the first time, shyness is not an uncommon response.
Treating Selective Mutism
Only after a period of time will the perceptive teacher suspect a problem beyond shyness. The child may be referred for speech therapy, but this is not productive treatment for a selectively mute child – the problem is an anxiety disorder, not a speech disorder. Under the guise of “being understanding”, the teacher may drop most or all expectations regarding the child’s educational progress; after all, if the child will not speak, why bother treating the child like a regular student? This accommodation seemingly absolves the teacher of responsibility, but “enables” the anxiety and exacerbates the problem of the child’s selective mutism.
In order to treat selective mutism, both parents and teachers must be educated about the signs and symptoms of selective mutism, and institute an “empowering, not enabling” strategy to treat the selectively mute child. It is highly beneficial for the selectively mute child for parents to learn how to advocate for the child with the school, and learn how to communicate with their child to reinforce empowerment.
Listen to one mother’s story of how she learned – through parent telephone therapy for selective mutsim – to effect an overwhelming turn-around of her daughter’s selective mutsim and concurrently resolve her own anxiety about her daughter’s condition.
Listen to Delia describe her son who chose not to speak to her and was non-responsive to everyone around him at school. She says that learning proper parenting techniques enabled “breaking the glass door” that had her “son trapped behind it.”
Do’s and Don’ts for Parents Treating your Selectively Mute Child
- Do learn what “enabling” is.
- Do not ask your child if he or she is going to speak in a given situation.
- Do learn a methodology of “empowering” your child’s potential and initiative.
- Do not continue “enabling” your child’s “addiction to the avoidance of speaking”.
- Do learn to employ a “matter of fact” set of expectations for your child that will facilitate the process of trying to talk.
- Do not show anger when your child is not talking.
- Do learn to be on the same “team” with parenting technique.
- Do not plead with your child to talk.
- Do attentively and patiently listen when your child is attempting to communicate.
- Do not reward your child for talking.
- Do learn to extract thoughts and feelings regarding fear from your child.
- Do not impatiently finish your child’s sentences or encourage over-dependence.
- Do learn to advocate on behalf of your child with school.
Self-Help & Treatment Options
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- "Social Anxiety the Untold Story": Comprehensive Self-Help for Sufferers and Families
- The book, "Beyond Shyness: How to Conquer Social Anxieties" (Simon & Schuster)
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- "Parenting The Selectively Mute Child": Self-therapy Audio CD Program
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