Has a teacher pointed out that your child does not speak readily or regularly at school? Does your usually chirpy and talkative kid suddenly stop talking when you arrive at social functions, parks, etc.? If your child is an entirely different person at home or outside, they might be suffering from selective mutism.
To increase awareness regarding the relatively lesser-known disorder, October is chosen as Selective mutism awareness month annually. Individuals worldwide try to spread awareness regarding the condition and together aim to build a safer and more compassionate society for people suffering from selective mutism.
On the occasion of this selective mutism awareness month, let us dive deeper into what the condition is and how it affects the lives of individuals.
What is selective mutism?
Selective mutism is a serious anxiety disorder found in children and is defined by the inability to speak or communicate properly in social situations. It is very common for kids with selective mutism to be extremely chatty and talkative at home but fall silent while being around other people.
Parents and caregivers are generally able to spot the signs of selective mutism when the child gets three or four years old. However, in some cases, the condition might not be discovered until the child grows up to go to school and their speaking problems become more apparent.
According to the National Health Service (NHS), selective mutism affects one in 140 children and is especially common in young girls or children trying to learn a second language.
If left untreated, selective mutism can cause significant impairment and persist well into adulthood.
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Selective mutism can have varying levels and types of symptoms depending on the child. However, some of the common symptoms include:
- talking freely and openly at home, but resorting to non-verbal communication in social settings,
- being unable to speak to familiar people (including parents) in social settings,
- facing difficulty in communicating with classmates and teachers at school,
- avoiding eye contact with other people,
- finding it difficult to complete tasks while being looked at, etc.
Myths related to selective mutism
Selective mutism is a relatively rare and lesser-known disorder, giving rise to various myths and stereotypes. Caregivers and sometimes even pediatricians can mistake the disorder for being merely shy. People also believe that the child is willfully choosing not to be a part of the social conversation rather than realizing the deeper underlying issues.
Another misconception regarding selective mutism is that it generally stems from past traumatic events. On the contrary, children who go mute due to past traumatic events behave that way in every condition. However, kids with selective mutism only display the symptoms while being in specific conditions.
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The good news is that selective mutism is a treatable condition, and most children can recover fully with the right care. The most common treatment methods include behavioral therapy, which teaches children to speak in new settings and with different people. Treatment options can also include medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.
The longer selective mutism goes undiagnosed, the harder it gets to treat the condition. Therefore, early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to proper recovery. That is why selective mutism awareness month is essential for educating and warning people regarding the disorder.
On the path of spreading awareness, let us take you to another severe but lesser-known mental health issue. Aphantasia or being blind in the mind is a condition where people lack the ability to create mental images. To know more about it, click here.
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