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Definition Return to top
Selective mutism is a condition in which a child who can speak well stops speaking, usually in school or social settings.
Causes Return to top
Most experts believe that the causes of selective mutism involve the following factors:
Most children with this condition have some form of extreme social phobia.
Parents often think that the child is refusing to speak, but usually the child is truly unable to speak in certain settings.
Some affected children have a family history of selective mutism, extreme shyness, or anxiety disorders, which may increase their risk for similar problems. This condition is most common in children under age 5.
This syndrome is not the same as mutism. In selective mutism, the child has the ability to both understand and speak, but fails to speak in certain settings or environments. Children with mutism never speak.
Symptoms Return to top
This pattern of mutism must be observed for at least 1 month. (The first month of school does not count, because shyness is common during this period.)
Exams and Tests Return to top
Teachers and counselors should consider cultural issues, such as recently moving to a new country and speaking another language. Children who are uncomfortable with a new language may not want to use it outside of a familiar setting. This is not necessarily selective mutism.
Treatment Return to top
Current treatment involves behavior changes, family participation, and the child's school. Certain medications that treat anxiety and social phobia have been used safely and successfully.
Support Groups Return to top
For more information and resources, see selective mutism support groups.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Children with this syndrome can have different outcomes. Some may need to continue therapy for shyness and social anxiety into the teenage years, and possibly into adulthood.
Possible Complications Return to top
Selective mutism can affect the child's ability to function in school or social settings. Without treatment, symptoms may get worse.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if your child has symptoms of selective mutism, and it is affecting school and social activities.Update Date: 2/6/2008 Updated by: Christos Ballas, M.D., Attending Psychiatrist, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.