Selective mutism is a social anxiety condition, in which a person who is quite capable of speech, is unable to speak in given situations. more...
In the DSM-IV selective mutism is described as a rare psychological disorder in children. Children (and adults) with the disorder are fully capable of speech and understanding language, but fail to speak in certain social situations when it is expected of them. They function normally in other areas of behaviour and learning, though appear severely withdrawn and might be unwilling to participate in group activities. It is like an extreme form of shyness, but the intensity and duration distinguish it. As an example, a child may be completely silent at school, for years at a time, but speak quite freely or even excessively at home.
The disorder is not regarded as a communication disorder, in that most children communicate through facial expressions, gestures, etc. In some cases, selective mutism is a symptom of a pervasive developmental disorder or a psychotic disorder.
In diagnosis, it can be easily confused with autistic spectrum disorder, or Aspergers, especially if the child acts particularly withdrawn around his or her psychologist. Unfortunately, this can lead to incorrect treatment.
Selective mutism is usually characterised by the following:
- The person does not speak in specific places such as school or other social events.
- The person can speak normally in at least one environment. Normally this is in the home.
- The person's inability to speak interferes with his or her ability to function in educational and/or social settings.
- The mutism has persisted for at least a month and is not related to change in the environment.
- The mutism is not caused by another communication disorder and does not occur as part of other mental disorders.
The former name elective mutism indicates a widespread misconception even among psychologists that selective mute people choose to be silent in certain situations, while the truth is that they are forced by their extreme anxiety to remain silent; despite their will to speak they just cannot make any voice. To reflect the involuntary nature of this disorder, its name has been changed to selective mutism in 1994. However, misconceptions still prevail; for instance, the ABC News erroneously attributed the cause of selective mutism to trauma and described it as willful in a report dated May 26, 2005.
The incidence of selective mutism is not certain. Owing to the poor understanding of the general public on this condition, many cases are undiagnosed. Based on the number of reported cases, the figure is commonly estimated to be 1 in 1000. However, in a 2002 study in The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the figure has increased to 7 in 1000.
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